SALEM — Decades ago, the name of this capital city got applied to a Northwest musical ministry that has blessed countless lives. But while the city yet stands, the outreach of the Salem Singers is concluding after nearly three quarters of a century.
“I’m resolved to it, but saddened too, because there is a ministry there,” said Evan Dillon of Silverton, a 27-year member of the nondenominational outreach.
Now in the midst of their farewell tour, the Salem Singers will wrap things up with nine concerts from October through early December in Canby, Salem, Junction City, Dallas, Eugene and in the Linn County towns of Crabtree and Waterloo. The final tour began last month with concerts in McMinnville, Keizer, Happy Valley and Wood Village.
The Salem Singers repertoire includes many Southern gospel tunes, traditional hymns and contemporary selections.
Dillon said there are two main reasons the ministry’s board and members decided it was time to end the outreach.
“One is that it is harder to get younger people to commit to this type of ministry,” he said, noting the average age of the group is now in the 70s, even though one member is only 16. “The other is that churches have changed their music programs to a different style. We’ve had pastors say, ‘We like you, but your music isn’t our music anymore.’ ’’
“If there was a real strong request by churches to continue, we would, but it would have to include younger members,” Dillon added.
The outreach was founded by the late Ernest Friesen, a lumberman, musician and choir director who recruited two of his Salem Box Company workers to start a chorus. Within months they had rallied nine other friends from various church backgrounds and occupations to get involved.
For a time in its earlier days, the group was a mixed chorus consisting of 22 young men and women. They appeared primarily at Youth for Christ meetings and other organizational activities assisting Billy Graham and Cliff Barrows. After about five years of ministry, it was necessary to change directions; the young female singers could not continue with the group. Thus, in 1948 the men’s chorus was organized and has performed faithfully ever since — regionally, nationally and even internationally. Members have comprised Christian laymen from many occupations and church affiliations throughout the Willamette Valley.
According to Dillon, the group’s name developed when a pastor who was a close friend of Friesen introduced the musicians as The Salem Singers, even though some of the members were from nearby Dallas. Members today live as far away as Eugene and Gresham and represent about seven or eight denominations, said Dillon. Among other longtime members are Bill Dirks of Gresham, 45 years in the group, and Dave Philp of west Salem, 37 years.
Remaining concerts, by date and city are shown as follows. (For specifics on time and location, see the Christian Events Calendar here at cnnw.com) Oct. 8, Canby and Salem; Oct. 29, Waterloo and Junction City, Oct. 29; Salem and Dallas, Nov. 5; Crabtree and Eugene, Nov. 19; and Salem, Dec. 3.