Singers from many communities unite for an evening of ‘Joyful Noise’


Scott Turner, KP News

Joyful Noise Singers founders Shirley Wirthgen, manager; and Jean Kopta, director (right) and the rest of their group are looking forward to sharing their talents at their June 16 concert in Gig Harbor. Photo by Scott Turner, KP News

Some people just love to make a joyful noise.

For Key Peninsula residents Arlene Babbitt and Heather Rogers, music –– especially singing –– has been an important part of life since they were youngsters.

Both women sang in high school and church choirs and were feeling a need to find a local choral group to be part of.

Enter Jean Kopta and the Joyful Noise Singers.

For Kopta, who lives in Port Orchard, music was her job. She taught music at Pacific Lutheran University for 30 years, directed choirs and even sang in the Seattle Opera chorus.

“Music was my entire career in one way or another,” she said, “as a singer, a voice teacher, a director –– always all at the same time.”

About six years ago, at the suggestion of her friend, Shirley Wirthgen, Kopta founded the Joyful Noise Singers.

Wirthgen handles the business end; Kopta does the music part.

“Jean had developed a heart condition and had to move over to this side of the Sound from Seattle to be closer to her son,” Wirthgen recalled. “I suggested that we get a choir started and within about six weeks we had 25 people –– mainly non-music readers.”

The group meets every Thursday afternoon at Harbor Covenant Church in Gig Harbor. They will perform a concert of American popular tunes at the church on June 16.

For both Babbitt and Rogers, being part of the Joyful Noise Singers is a dream come true. “I love to sing and come here (to sing in the group) to continue to be singing,” Babbitt said. “It’s really a wonderful group of singers.”

Rogers agreed. “I always sing –– in the shower, when I’m gardening, all the time,” she said, smiling. “Singing is great for the brain, not just for the voice and Jean has such great experience. I just continue to learn and learn and improve,” Rogers said.

“I guess I’m just like an old dog that can’t quit,” Kopta said with a laugh, recalling how the Joyful Noise group got its start.

“It was Christmas and I was just bored. Christmas was coming and I realized that I wasn’t doing any music and I thought, ‘This is weird.’

“I sang at a little function at the (Gig Harbor) YMCA and while I was singing, Shirley was going around getting names of people who might want to be in a choir.”

The group started with about a dozen people. “I was thinking we would just do some Christmas carols,” Kopta said. “But it’s just grown and blossomed.”

Today, there are 35 singers in the group from throughout the area. And they have gathered a sizable cadre of fans. “We have 250 people who come to our concerts,” Wirthgen said. “We have a real following.”

The June 16 concert will feature many familiar tunes from the 1930s to the 1970s. Kopta thinks it’s some of the best music ever written.

The program includes standards such as “You Made Me Love You,” written in 1934, “Blue Skies,” “Autumn Leaves,” “Fly Me to the Moon,” “I’d Like to Teach The World To Sing” and many more.

“The songs go from 1934 to 1974,” Koptka said. “It stops there because the style of singing and the style of music changed about that time.”

For her part, Kopta said, she is “extremely proud” of her singers. “They’re all older voices, but I train them. I’ve given them lots of little tidbits all the way through. I’m extremely proud of them. And I’m amazed.”

For information, call Kopta at (253) 857-7786.