Understandably, Christmas is a busy time of year for the Ponte Vedra choir staple, the Sawgrass Singers.
It wasn’t always that way, however. Twenty years ago, the Singers were a self-described “ragtag” group of harmonizing vocalists, just looking for a tune to sing along to.
“(Originally,) we were about eight members,” founding conductor Constance Quinlan said. “There was a group of us that would sing around the piano at the (Sawgrass) golf club. There was something going on there every week and there was a piano player. We would gather round and sing — that was the core that started. As we sang, we got better and better and more people decided to join us.”
Soon enough, the group had grown to over 60 members. They started booking shows at the Sawgrass Country Club, Vicar’s Landing and THE PLAYERS Community Senior Center. It seemed that more and more people were interested in joining the group everywhere they went.
“These were (locals) that had worked in business and raised families and were busy but now that they are retired.” Quinlan said. “Maybe they had sung in a college choir or something in the past, but now they have the time.”
The Sawgrass Singers is mostly, if not all, comprised of seniors and retirees. Quinlan says they have had high school students participate in the instrumental section in the past, but they currently host older members, the oldest Singers being in their 80s.
The Singers aren’t disadvantaged by their ages, however.
Longtime member Ted Burfeind, 86, holds the rhythm on the drums. He plays regularly for the Sawgrass Singers as well as the Jacksonville Symphony and Civic Orchestra of Jacksonville.
“I’ve been playing about 75 years,” Burfeind said. “I started in middle school and continued on to play in combos as I got older.”
One thing Quinlan notes is that members’ voices tend to change with age. When this happens, she doesn’t worry about it, she just, “moves them around.”
“A lot of my tenors are just now singing baritone,” she shrugged.
Currently, the group is about 45 members strong. Quinlan said that is mostly due to people moving away and illness. The sense of community within the group is as strong as ever, however. Just recently, the Sawgrass Singers preformed at beloved former-member Natalie Martinelli’s funeral at Our Lady Star of the Sea Catholic Church.
“She sang with us 15 years,” Quinlan said. “It was one of her dying wishes that the Sawgrass Singers preform. We sung ‘Amazing Grace’ in her honor.”
After 20 years working with the Sawgrass Singers, Quinlan said she has learned the best way to improve health and make friends is to “harmonize with them.”
The Sawgrass Singers will preform Dec. 11-12 at 7 p.m. at the Sawgrass Golf Club.