The St. John Choristers are much more than a singing group. They’re more like a sports team. Nineteen of them attended a two-week training camp this summer. They did “two-a-day” practice sessions to get ready for the regular singing season. The other 5 and a half hours were spent playing laser tag, swimming and enjoying social activities.

“Choir is significant in these kids’ lives,” Director Paul Lindblad said. “They are also important in the life of the congregation.”

The Choristers have been a melodious presence at St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church services for the past 23 years. Three years ago, the church opened up membership in the Choristers, no longer limiting it to church attendees and Walther Lutheran Academy students. Today, a third of the Choristers come from local communities.

Of the eight Choristers who sang at a Sept. 25 church service, almost half were from outside Forest Park. Donavin Sharber, the senior member of the group, was among the out-of-towners. The 8th grader has been a Chorister for five years and acted as their unofficial spokesperson.

“Everyone in the choir is devoted to singing,” Sharber said, “And Mr. Lindblad is a great teacher.” Besides the intensive training the Choristers did during the summer, the group rehearses every Monday night.

“We sing about half the time in languages other than English,” Sharber continued, “We sing from the diaphragm so that we don’t destroy our voices. We want to get to the level where we can all sing solos and still sing in unison. We want to sing with enough power to make the sanctuary ring for five seconds after the song ends.”

Sharber has a strong sense of the church’s history. “We used to have services in German and it would be standing-room-only.” The church switched to English many years ago but continues to draw overflow crowds for its Boar’s Head Festival in December. Several Choristers are hoping to land solo parts for the festival but, even at regular services, they make a strong impression.

“Every Sunday, we get compliments from long-time members: people who have been coming here for 40, 60 years,” Sharber said.

Sharber and his fellow Choristers received 50 hours of music instruction during their summer training session. They studied vocal technique, stage craft and musicianship, among other choir-related subjects. The camp culminated with a recital and cookout for parents.

A third of the Choristers attend Walther Lutheran Academy, where they have music classes several days a week. “It’s the only day school in the U.S. that offers so much music to its students,” Lindblad said, “They learn music theory and how to read music.” The school also invites professionals, like Lyric Opera soprano Christine Steyer, to conduct singing workshops for the students.

Like the school, “The [St. John’s] congregation has a strong dedication to the arts and music,” said Lindblad. He attributed the church’s superb acoustics to its architectural design. It was modeled after St. Mark’s in Venice, with “sound shells” at each end. “They even covered up one of the church’s rose windows to make room for the organ,” Lindblad said.

Lindblad has traveled to Europe to study its great choirs and acquire classic scores for his students. He also has the Choristers sing pieces by local composers, including choral arrangements by Carl Schalk from Maywood and Paul Bouman of Oak Park. Lindblad, himself, composed a 45-minute passion piece that was performed at St. John’s last Good Friday.

Joining the St. John Choristers “offers kids something unique,” Lindblad said, “They feel ownership of the program. They have an intense desire to achieve greatness. Every year, we get ‘mountain top’ experiences.”

Those wishing to scale musical heights with the St. John Choristers can contact Paul Lindblad at 847-420-9200.

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.