Singers provide special Touch to family weddings

Country at Heart is a musical singing group that has performed at the Cherry Grove cowboy church and the historic Lenora church. From left are Mary Ann Schultz, Dianne Bicknese and Denise Hays. SUBMITTED PHOTO
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“The first wedding we ever sang at was at our oldest sister’s wedding, probably 56 years ago,” recalled Spring Valley resident Mary Ann Ramaker Schultz. “When our sister, Linda, married Vince Olson, Dianne and Billi and I sang at her wedding, and since then Dianne and I have probably sung at the majority of our brothers’ and sisters’ weddings, and for the majority of our nieces and nephews.”

The word “majority” has a little bit of significance with this family. Keep in mind that the Ramaker family began with 17 siblings and now numbers more than 100 people. So that little family wedding meant the beginning of a tradition for Schultz and her sisters, Dianne Ramaker Bicknese and Billi Ramaker, because if there’s one thing the Ramakers have done over the years, it’s sing – in church, at family dinners, in the car, in the kitchen, and on the side of the road while waiting for someone to fix a flat tire. Gospel truth.

Schultz related, “The family likes to sing. Dianne and I like to sing. We like the harmony. Music, to us, is therapy. We’ve always been comforted by it, and we hope that the younger people, the nieces and nephews, carry that on. We’ve sung at their weddings, and we hope they carry that on.”

She shared that Dianne and Billi raised their voices to heaven with her when they could, and it was always rewarding.

“Dianne and I have always sung. We first started out with several weddings, and Dianne and I would do a duet, she’s done solos for weddings, we’ve sung with different people – nieces and nephews – and now it’s mostly solos, Schultz said. “We’ve done outdoor weddings, big chapels, tiny weddings, and for a period of time, I videotaped weddings, but as the younger people started getting married, they asked to have us sing. If I think of all the brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews, I’ve sung for generations – I sang for Linda’s wedding, and I also sang at their son’s wedding, a song that our sister Billi wrote. Over the years, I’ve sung at between 100 to 200 weddings.”

Schultz commented that she is honored to be asked to sing at a wedding, be it family or someone who knows that she and her family have music in their souls.

“That is very special, because they probably have a lot of people they could’ve asked. When we were younger, all our siblings were growing up and getting married at the same time, so we sang for all of them, and to us, it’s quite an honor to sing for someone,” Schultz said. “I guess I never took it for granted…some of our nieces and nephews have been brave enough to stand up and sing with us, and Dianne has always sung.”

Currently, Bicknese, Schultz and their friend, Denise Hays, are known as Country at Heart, a guitar-accompanied trio that’s often invited to sing at the historic Lenora United Methodist Church and at the Cherry Grove United Methodist Church cowboy church services. They also perform for services at Dianne’s church — the Wykoff United Methodist Church, as well as for special events such as the Wykoff veterans’ memorial fundraiser breakfast three or four years ago.

They may not necessarily sing together at every wedding, but Schultz observed that it’s still the privilege of knowing that the music in the ceremony carries importance to the bride and groom.

“I don’t know if Denise or Dianne have done weddings, but weddings are my favorite because they’re such a special day, and you get to have different people play for you – often, there’s someone who plays guitar, or there are different organists or pianists, like Suz Eberle or Irma Rathbun,” Schultz said. “And it’s always interesting to hear the music other people sing at the weddings, because there’s such a nice variety.”

She noted that many choices include something like “The Lord’s Prayer” and other religious wedding songs that are always very meaningful.

“I think the songs, over the years, have become more secular, and I think people have found songs that they like that they want at their weddings,” Schultz added. “It’s their choice…and I’ve been at all sizes of weddings, some that are grandiose and full of pomp and circumstance, and some that are very simple but still beautiful.”

No matter what type of wedding – or size of wedding – Schultz acknowledged that music is very important to people. They put a lot of thought into the songs they choose.

“The kids who don’t, I try to help them, because it’s a very precious time in life, and the music means a lot,” she said.

Between weddings, community events and church services, Schultz and Bicknese are busy with family, friends and church. If there’s a moment to spare, they’re likely humming harmonies or working up a good Gospel tune.  It is just what they’ve always done.