Minuteman Band fans might remember Tony Lechner from his role in the “Phantom of the Opera” shows, but might not know his real life is filled with music – from the moment he gets up in the morning until his head hits his pillow at night.
“There’s not a thing I do that doesn’t revolve around music,” said Lechner in a recent interview at the Stoneleigh-Burnham School in Greenfield, where he is a music teacher. “I write it. I perform it. I teach it. That’s what I do.”
But he still can’t seem to get enough of what he calls “my destiny.” Three years ago, Lechner formed an amateur singing group called the Valley Jazz Choir, and now he’s started the Valley Rock Choir, 40 amateur singers who will perform for the first time May 12 in Northampton.
Lechner, who lives in South Hadley, says he wanted to offer an outlet for singers who had no other place to warble, except perhaps in the shower.
“I thought, ‘You know, I love rock, pop music. I bet there’s people out there that don’t get to sing,’ ” he said. This winter he put an ad in a local newspaper, hoping that a few people would show up at the first rehearsal in February. When he arrived at the North Star building in Hadley, he says, there were so many cars in the parking lot he thought there was another event going on.
“Fifty people showed up,” he said, still in disbelief. Since then, he added, the choir has made remarkable headway at its weekly rehearsals: “It’s working.”
Lechner grew up the youngest of six musical kids and earned a bachelor’s degree in voice and a master’s degree in jazz composition and arranging, both from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
A composer who sings and plays piano, guitar and trumpet, he’s also had a long career as a teacher. One stop along the way: the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter School in South Hadley, where he founded the award-winning a cappella group 5-Alone.
Lechner says his mission for the rock choir is simple: “everybody involved, everybody having fun, everybody learning something.” He tailors the musical arrangements to take advantage of the singers’ strengths, and even records the parts and posts them online for people who can’t sight-read music.
“Each rehearsal gets better and better,” Lechner said. “It’s like those memes you see on the Internet: Passion. What the world needs. What people will pay you for. If they all meet, that’s supposed to be bliss. The other day I thought, ‘Hey, what I’m doing fits all those things.’ ”
The Valley Rock Choir will perform May 12 at 7 p.m. at the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence. They will be joined by the Valley Jazz Choir. For information, visit valleyrockchoir.com.
– Kathleen Mellen, Daily Hampshire Gazette