About 40 years ago, when Lil Stresser and her husband first moved from the bustling city of Seattle, Washington, to the quiet country town of Winthrop, Maine, a piece in the local newspaper caught her attention: A community singing group, CODA Chorus, was looking for members, no auditions required.

“I thought that would be a way to meet people,” Stresser, now 80, said during an interview this week. “I went, and I haven’t stopped.”

In the ensuing years, Stresser, an alto, has contributed much to the singing group, which doesn’t charge admission to its performances. She has dragged herself to rehearsals on countless freezing winter evenings and can recall just one concert that she missed.

In return, Stresser has made friends who have helped her in the most important moments. The reason she missed that concert in 2002 was because her husband had died the day before it.

Being a part of the chorus “definitely helped,” she recalled of that difficult time in her life. “They provided all the food at his reception. It’s a welcoming group.”

That welcoming spirit will be extended again Saturday, when CODA Chorus celebrates its 50th anniversary by offering two free concerts, scheduled for 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. at the Hope Baptist Church in Manchester.

Some of the singers have been with the group since its creation in 1967, when a group of Winthrop-area church choirs came together into a group calling itself the Church Organists and Directors Association, or CODA.

While the name has stuck, the group is no longer a church-based organization. Rather, it is a community-oriented group that still doesn’t require newcomers to audition and now performs songs from a variety of genres, whether they be classical or spiritual or secular.

The group has grown, from about 30 singers in its early days to 50 to 80 now, depending upon the time of the year. In some years, more than 100 have joined.

“The director and the type of music and those things have changed over the years, although the core value of the group is what it was,” said another member, Dave Lewis, a 74-year-old baritone from Monmouth who started singing with the group around the same time as Stresser.

What’s that “core value” Lewis mentioned?

“I think it’s to present a wide range of music, not just classical,” he said. “To use a cliché, from Bach to the Beatles, or Brahms to the Beatles. We’ve done any number of things. But the biggest thing is … you don’t have to pass an audition. It’s strictly a community group, and we present very, very, very good music, all due to hard work.”

Lewis, like other singers interviewed for this story, credited the group’s directors for much of its success. He spoke highly of the current director, Joelle Morris, calling her “an absolutely excellent musician.”

Morris became the director about five years ago, after moving to Maine from her home country, France, where she and her family had been living. She conducted for a similar community group in France and is one of two people who now are paid for their work with the CODA Chorus. The other is the accompanist, Rebecca Caron.

To prepare for this weekend’s concert, which is called the 50th Anniversary Jubilee, Morris said that she dug back through the decades and selected pieces the group has performed from the beginning. Those include “It’s a Grand Night for Singing” from the film “State Fair,” “Worthy is the Lamb,” “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and spirituals including “Amazing Grace” and “Ride the Chariot.”

“It’s definitely a blast to the past to honor what’s been done,” Morris said. “This is what CODA was in ’67.”

The organization’s former conductors will be honored at Saturday’s concert, and several plan to attend, including Ed Larson, Delmar Small and Dale Perkins, according to Morris. Barbara Franklin is unable to attend.

At much as the group is using its 50th anniversary to look at the past, Morris said it’s also considering ways to sustain itself for another half-century. Right now, it’s supported with donations, annual dues and advertising in its concert programs. However, the group is discussing what other fundraising and partnerships could help it continue.

One singer who has been with the group from the beginning is Lee Gilman, 83, of Winthrop. She took about 15 years off, starting in the 1990s, because she was busy with another local organization, the Winthrop Grange. But she has returned to the chorus and will be there on Saturday.

What would she tell someone who hasn’t attended one of their concerts?

“I think they would be surprised at the sound,” she said. “The voices really blend nicely. It’s usually quite a large chorus, and if they’re all singing together in harmony, it just makes for a nice evening. And they need to come watch the director. It’s almost — ‘poetic’ is not really the word I want — but it’s almost like a dance when she’s directing.”

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker

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