Mark Reppert, a retired music teacher from North Medford High School who's been acting director of the Siskiyou Singers since February, has been appointed to the post.

Wesley Hall at the United Methodist Church of Ashland was filled with friendly conversation Tuesday evening as members of the Siskiyou Singers shared a potluck dinner with newly appointed music director and conductor Mark Reppert.

"This is a wonderful group," Reppert said. "They're enthusiastic, hardworking, and from the moment I arrived, they were willing to try anything."

Reppert has some large conductor's shoes to fill. The previous director, Dave Marston, who died from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in June 2009, led the Siskiyou Singers for 21 years. He was well-known in the Ashland community, having been music director for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival for a time and leader of the Rogue Valley Peace Choir, the Children's Peace Choir, choirs at Methodist, Congregational and Havurah houses of worship, the Beatles cover band The Nowhere Men and the band The Ancient Men.

Reppert came to the community choir well aware of Marston's imprint. "I was really worried," Reppert said. "He had established a legacy and a way of doing things. My fears were not realized."

Members have been adjusting to Reppert's style — he's been interim director since September — and had high praise for his abilities and leadership. "I didn't know how the transition would work and it worked very well," said Susan Lee Hall, Grants Pass resident and tenor section leader. "Part of the reason is Mark is very, very different from Dave, with his own talent, passion and presence. A good conductor can hear all the sounds (as a group performs) and has the sound he wants in his head and can get us there. Mark has that."

Susan's husband, Les Hall, was on the selection committee, which interviewed eight candidates for the conductor slot. "Mark was by far the outstanding candidate," Hall said.

Reppert is a retired music teacher from North Medford High School. He has a master's degree in piano from Chico State University and completed his undergraduate work at the University of Southern California.

The maturity and experience of the choir members have been refreshing for Reppert, coming off 30 years of working with high school students.

"Things stick with them," he said. "They're taking things seriously and prepare very well. It's not the same kind of commitment in a high school group."

He said he's always had a strong connection to choral music, working as an accompanist for various groups for many years while observing the directors of those groups in action.

"I thought 'I could do better than that,' so I decided to pursue choral direction," he said.

Most of the 100-plus members of the Siskiyou Singers are from the Ashland-Medford area, but many others come from as far away as Eagle Point, Williams, Selma and Yreka, Calif.

Myna Wilson has made the 40-minute drive over the Siskiyou Pass from Yreka once a week for five years to rehearse and perform.

"I've got to sing — that's why!" Wilson said, adding that the variety of music the group performs and the competence of the board of directors keep her coming back.

"We have an incredible board of directors," she said. "They lead us in the right direction. It's been a difficult time, but it's good."

Beverly Bowman, one of the longest standing members at 16 years, is still visibly saddened at the memory of Marston's passing. She is optimistic about the group's future under Reppert.

"I was Dave's assistant," Bowman said Tuesday, minutes before rehearsal was to begin. "It was a hard transition, but we are continuing as Dave would have wanted us to do."

Reppert's appointment was made public Feb. 7.

Reppert is the Siskiyou Singer's third director since it was founded in 1982 under Jacqueline Dougherty. The group puts on six concerts a year, on top of performing at the Feast of Will, occasional OSF Green Shows, school outreach programs and other collaborations.

The next performances are scheduled for May 14-16 in Grants Pass and Ashland. For information, call 541-482-5290 or e-mail siskiyousingers@hotmail.com.

Myles Murphy is a reporter and an editor for the Tidings. Reach him at mmurphy@dailytidings.com or at 541-482-3456 ext. 222.