Plumbing the joy of music

The voices of Fredonia’s Divine Savior Parish choir rise in harmony to the direction of a master, Kim Steffen, master plumber and holder of a master’s degree in music education

Like many singing groups, members of the Divine Savior Parish choir have a passion for music.
But that’s not the most prominent element bringing them together each Sunday.
They enjoy each other’s company and have fun rehearsing and performing.
That’s not their main motivation either.
A few members play instruments that accompany the glorious voices, but that’s not why they join in.
These choir members have a more powerful purpose to let their pipes pump through their place of worship.
“I’ve been blessed with a talent to sing and play. I grew up realizing that when you’re blessed with a God-given talent, you give that back,” tenor and guitar player Tim Shininger of Fredonia said. “I consider it a service to the parish. It’s certainly an honor.”
“It feels,” professional violin player Mary Navis said, “like it’s something I can give back to the parish.”
About 20 members all serve under the direction of Kim Steffen, a master plumber who holds a master’s degree in music education.
Before the choir performs each Sunday,  a prayer is held pertinent to the church and the world, Steffen said.
“And we pray in earnest that our participation in this music ministry may deepen our faith. That’s a very big thing for me,” he said.
“That’s why I go.”
Steffen began directing the choir in 1975 after his mother — who sang with the group — sent him a letter while he was serving in the Army.
“She knew I was getting out. She said, ‘Hey, do you think you could play Christmas Eve?’ They had nobody,” he said.
Steffen knows how to play piano and he walked in and played the pipe organ that night.
He became the leader of the group.
“They needed somebody,” he said. “Usually in the small-market limited-resources places, the keyboard player is the one who sets it up.”
Steffen directs strictly as a volunteer. He doesn’t do lessons on the side or anything else.
And he’s got a partner who helps make it go. His wife Joan does the music library work and all the editing.
“This would have never worked past the second week if my wife was not in it 100%,” he said. “Basically, we work as a team for the parish.”
When the Steffens started, the church wasn’t yet known as Divine Savior. Kim was a member of St. Rose in Fredonia for his entire life. The choir had about 10 members for decades.
When the parish combined with St. Mary’s in Lake Church on July 1, 2012, Steffen didn’t know what would happen.
“That was probably the biggest day in the parish music business,” he said.
Steffen walked into Sunday morning rehearsal per usual, and saw as many as 10 people from St. Mary’s ready and willing to sing.
“What a wonderful thing,” he said. “They were good people of faith and they were willing and capable singers.”
The groups combined and sang during that first Mass together.
“That was a big deal,” Steffen said. “We worked so hard. Parishes were on shaky ground because of a shortage of priests.”
St. Mary’s choir director, Steffen said, lived in Wauwatosa and found a church closer to home. Steffen welcomed the idea of leading the combined group and “the opportunity to work with wonderful capable people who all share the same faith.”
Leading a choir double in size has made the choir loft a little more crowded and more work for both Steffens, but Kim said “it’s been easy street” due to the dedication and talent of the members.
“There’s people that have been doing this since seventh grade,” Steffen said in reference to Richard Uselding, who ran the hardware store in Belgium for decades.
The mix of farmers, factory workers and professionals works, Steffen said.
“We grow together spiritually and we have a lot of fun along the way,” he said. “Everybody is very much a team player.”
Steffen, a member of the Ozaukee Chorus since 1991, sings along if he’s needed. Otherwise, he plays piano or organ. He thanks his mother for signing him up for lessons when he was a child with “the venerable Harold Ewig” of Port Washington.
Steffen switched to percussion and played “Wipeout” as part of his college recital during senior year at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.
After three years in the Army, he taught music part time at Ozaukee High School.  Soon, his family’s plumbing business needed help, and Steffen made a career change. Today, his master of music education degree hangs on the wall next to his master plumber’s license.
Directing the choir made sense given Steffen’s skill set.
“I thought well, this is a way that I can somehow justify my college education. At a certain point, I guess I was called to do this,” he said.
The choir sings at each Sunday’s 10 a.m. Mass, and Steffen makes nearly each one. A couple of Sundays per year, Navis directs the children’s choir, giving Steffen a break.
Navis, who plays violin with the Sheboygan Symphony, loves leading the 20-member choir of second-graders through college students.
“It is awesome,” she said. “It’s an amazing group of kids.”
On Christmas Eve, the youth choir will perform at the 4:30 p.m. Mass at Lake Church. The adult choir will sing at the 4 p.m. Mass at Holy Cross.
For the Christmas Mass, Steffen said he sticks to the traditional songs everyone loves.
“Its not a concert,” he said. “We basically try to get the congregation to sing along.”
Beyond the parish, the choir went caroling last Sunday at nursing homes in Belgium, Fredonia and Cedar Grove, along with visiting elderly members who have lost a loved one this year.
“The thing I like about the choir is it’s very fulfilling,” the 20-year member Navis said. “It’s fun. It’s our family.”
In the church Steffen gets the best seat in the house.
“I sit facing them. I get to hear how good it sounds,” he said.



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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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