The 150 members of the Woodbridge Community Choir straggled slowly into the last rehearsal before their Christmas concert.

While bass Chaz Johnson struggled to assemble the risers the group would stand on, two sopranos discussed recipes and the vagaries of teenage children. Then Joanne Kornacki took her place on the conductor's stand and the shuffling and gossip stopped.

The words of the carol "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" rang out in the auditorium at Woodbridge High School. For 24 years, these choir members have been gathering every Monday during the fall to share their love of music.

Prince William's churches have always had strong choirs, but they had never sung together until Erotida Lillian Gaskill moved to Marumsco Hills in 1966.

"We're a military family and I had sung in different choirs wherever we were," she said.

Gaskill called a meeting of the choir directors from half a dozen Dale City and Woodbridge churches. "I wanted to see if it was possible for us to come together," she said.

More than 75 people showed up that year, and the group has doubled since then, making it the largest volunteer choir in Northern Virginia, said board member Melanie Berney.

"We have made some really good friends and watched the development of good musicians," said Edith Peed, this year's accompanist and a member of the group. "It's created a nice music community."

Different members take turns directing the choir, and all concerts are free. "It has been a gift to the community . . . . {The Christmas concert} is a way to start the season," said Montclair resident Jan Grundeman, who joined the group 23 years ago.

Over the years, the choir has sung at park openings, Kennedy Center festivities and, in 1986, on the "Today" show. The group's loyalty is such that many members who had dropped out returned this year for the two 25th anniversary concerts last weekend, which featured favorite songs from past concerts.

"It's glorious, they are so good. It's people who live to sing coming together," said Kornacki, who has been with the choir since the beginning.

Gary and Janna Milstead have been driving two hours each way from Mineral, Va., near Charlottesville, to get to rehearsals.

"It's the 25th anniversary, so we're making the trek . . . . It really is a ball," said Gary Milstead, who sang in the choir from 1984 to 1987.

The choir also has fostered several smaller groups, four this year, which sing with the main group and perform at hospitals, community events and schools.

The Motley Crew -- an all-male group named after its director, Linwood S. Motley III -- sang a special arrangement of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and "Good Christian Men Rejoice" at last weekend's 25th anniversary concerts at the high school and Our Lady of Angels Catholic Church.

The group also has spawned a 70-member children's choir, made up of second- through sixth-graders and directed this year by Grundeman. They will perform a free concert at Christ Chapel, opposite Gar-Field High School, at 2 p.m. Saturday.

"The children's choir was born out of a desire to widen the scope of the music," Grundeman said. "I want the children to know it's a joyous experience."