LILBOURN -- For 69 Christmas seasons, singers have filled the Lilbourn United Methodist Church with the joyous sounds of the holiday. This year -- the 70th -- will be no different.
At 4 p.m. Dec. 11, a choir comprised of singers from nine different churches, representing five denominations, will present "The First Noel."
For 30 of the 70 years, Betty Joyce Dambach has directed the choir. She explains her background wasn't in directing -- she served as the pianist for the Lilbourn United Methodist Church. However in 1981, following the death of the choir's longtime director, Dambach took the role and the singers have followed her lead ever since.
The director recalled initially the production was solely by the Lilbourn church's members. In an effort to bring more participation, she invited singers from other local churches to add their voices, creating a community choir.
The choir continued to grow, adding members from the Parma Methodist Church.
"Now it is the whole surrounding area," Dambach pointed out. "There are people from Risco, Parma, Kewanee, Lilbourn, Marston and New Madrid."
And the group spans ages -- the youngest member is 14 and the oldest is in their 80s. They even span generations, with Dambach's husband, son and granddaughters all performing in this year's production.
What they have in common, the director said, is their talent.
"They love to sing and this gives an outlet for them," Dambach said. "We leave our denominations at the door and join in one spirit."
She said all the singers are dedicated, noting some take their music home to practice while others sing in their cars to prepare their parts for the production. Once a week as their December performance nears, they gather to rehearse at the church, located at the corner of Charlotte and Third streets.
Sunday the choir members worked through the performance singing along with the recorded music between the narrations.
Dambach said she tries to pick a cantata both the performers and the audience will enjoy. "I try to pick one you can hum or tap your toes to -- an easy melody ... something that will stay with you all week long," she said.
Donna Sapp, a former music teacher, joined the choir about 17 years ago. She explained she has always enjoyed singing, especially in choirs.
Over the years, the Lilbourn United Methodist Church performance has enabled her to sing with lots of different people. Some, she said, have become friends.
While she is a soloist in this year's performance, Sapp said her favorite parts of "The First Noel," are the song sung by the men in the choir and the finale.
"The finale is so dynamic and exciting," she said, explaining in this cantata the last song is a medley of carols.
The end of the cantata is also a favorite moment for the director. Dambach said each year she works on something a little bit different to conclude their performance.
As the music envelopes the church, which is typically filled to capacity, Dambach said she feels blessed to be involved with the musical production.
"Even if we had no congregation to listen to us," she said, "I think we would still come together united in the Christmas spirit."