A Grande Tradition Returns

In 1967, The Grande Chorale began practicing and performing at Rio. From Broadway hits to bluegrass, the revered vocal ensemble performed for audiences ranging from the Bob Evans' Trail of Gold Tour held for then Governor James Rhodes to area grade schools.

A few years ago, budget cuts forced a final curtain call on a beloved Rio Grande tradition.

Merlyn Ross may have launched the Grande Chorale, but Beth Fowble (‘04) revived it decades later.

Grande Chorale Group Shot
Rio's Grande Chorale poses outside of the Berry Fine and Performing Arts Center

"We started the program again with only five students," she said. "We had to do a lot of promotion because most people thought Grande Chorale was a restaurant. But thanks to recruiting, traveling to area high schools and scholarships, it's grown to 18 members, which is bigger than when the program ended."

Fowble was a River Valley High School valedictorian who came to Rio Grande on a full scholarship. She wanted to be a teacher but wasn't sure what she wanted to teach. She loved music and joined the Grande Chorale to enhance her college experience. There, her life went from a jam session to a fully realized performance.

"I explained my dilemma to Dr. Merv Murdock, and he said something that changed my life," she said. "He told me to teach what you're passionate about. That resonated with me, so I started taking music classes my sophomore year."

After graduating from Rio Grande, Beth earned a Master of Education in Instructional Design. She's spent the last 20 years teaching, serving as the Children's Ministry Director at River City Fellowship and teaching private music lessons as a stay-at-home mom. She'd hoped to return to teaching once her children were older, and fate agreed.

In 2022, she attended a meeting of local music teachers. Dr. David Lawrence, one of her music professors at Rio Grande, had taken over the Grande Chorale and invited her to assist him. That November, Dr. Lawrence took a new position, and Beth took over as director.

"Grande Chorale was pivotal in who I am today," she said. "We got to travel and meet different people. It was the biggest and most memorable part of my college experience. I want to pass that gift on to others."

Today, the Grande Chorale is a thriving ensemble that performs locally and plans to tour Wales soon. As its director, Beth is excited about the future.

Beth Fowble and Family
Grande Chorale Director and Rio Alum, Beth Fowble and family.

"This is a great experience, even for non-music majors," she said. "It's a club, not a class. I want to attract the kid who loves music and performing but studies education or nursing. That way, they can do someone they love while getting their degree."

Beth hopes the Grande Chorale will inspire children and adults to enjoy music.

"At the Grand Chorale concert in December, my daughter, who is 10, was so excited after the performance," she said. "She declared that she wants to do Grande Chorale one day. That means we must be doing something right. When I quit teaching, I missed it a lot. So, it's a gift to be able to teach again - especially at Rio Grande."

You can watch the Grande Chorale's December concert below.