ANDERSON — When Sonya Eddy sees an organization boasting 30-, 40- or 50-year anniversaries, she just laughs.
“I read about all these organizations that are saying they’ve been around for 50 years, and I say ‘Wonderful,’” Eddy said derisively.
Fifty years is nothing for the upbeat but delightfully offbeat 81-year-old woman who has spent five years more than that as director for the Madison County Music Makers.
To say she was prepared for the role is an understatement. Her father founded the choir in 1934 as head of the Purdue Musical Organization as part of his, eventually successful, mission to plant choirs in each of the state’s 92 counties.
“You have to know that Purdue Musical Organizations was my older sibling, because my mother worked closely with my dad when he developed that; and then they had me,” she joked.
At one time, there were 2,000 women in the choruses. The program continues today through the Indiana Extension Homemakers Association.
Eddy was “volunteered” as director for the Madison County choir by her father, Albert P. Stewart, after the acting director stepped down in 1964.
“My husband worked for GM, and I was pregnant with my second child, and my dad called me one day and he said, ‘Sonya, Madison County needs a new director — and you’re it,’” Eddy recalled with a laugh.
Rather than feeling forced, Eddy said she was proud to take the position — seeing it as her own way to spread her gospel of musical enlightenment.
“Music is fantastic, I like to say that music is bubbling up inside of you, you just have to open your mouth and let it out … because if you keep it inside of you it might fester and make you sick,” she said. “So open your mouth and let it out.”
Her love for music is apparent from the threshold of her home — where a large grand piano surrounded by dozens of songbooks eclipses the rest of the living room and shelves filled with nearly a century of memorabilia spills across the space.
For Eddy, music comes from the soul — not from some arranger’s assembly of notes along five bars at the top of the hundreds of pages of music strung about her home in melodious piles.
“It’s a feeling, when I watch groups that hold their music and just sing it exactly like that it drives me crazy,” she said. “There’s feeling in that music.”
But after 55 years of offering an outlet for musical liberation to the legion of women she’s commanded, Eddy is ready to step down.
“It comes to the point where I am going to make the decision, I don’t want someone to come to me and say your memory is slipping or be feeble up there,” she said. “If I can’t kick the hell out of them I don’t want to do it anymore.”
And with her retirement, the 85-year-old choir is set to go with her.
Donnetta Ratliff, a choir member for 15 years, said she has mixed feelings about losing the choir.
“We have got a lot of satisfaction when we sing but there are other things to go on and do at this point in life so I will miss it,” Ratliff said. “She has been a great leader and inspiration to all of us in the choir (but) I know it’s time.
For Eddy, the choir has been her second family for so long that she’s unsure exactly how to move on — though she’s got a months-long trip to Florida to think about it.
“And we just met for luncheon Monday, and they said when you get back from Florida you are going to change your mind -- because they all just hate it,” she said. “I don’t really know what I’m going to do.”
One thing’s for sure though — that belief that all it takes to bring a smile to your face is opening your mouth and singing is still very much alive and well.
“So open your mouth, and let it out,” she said.