This past September I had the pleasure of working with Insight Memory Care Center to launch the first Encore Creativity for Older Adults’ Sentimental Journey Singers choir. Encore Creativity is the nation’s largest organization specializing in community choirs for the 55+ community. We have almost 1400 singers in the DC metro area and beyond singing in Encore Chorale (traditional choral literature) and Encore ROCKS (pop and rock and roll) ensembles. When some singers started expressing concerns about keeping up in rehearsals, we realized it was time for our next adventure. Encore founder, Jeanne Kelly’s mantra is “Sing for life.” She realized that some of the singers were developing memory challenges of varying degrees and she wanted to keep them singing.
Sentimental Journey Singers had been meeting each Monday for a 90-minute rehearsal with vocalizes, music rehearsal, and therapeutic musical memory and physical activities with our pianist and music therapist, Rachel Thompson. The group performed a rousing debut concert in December. When asked about their concert experience the singers expressed pride in their accomplishments and gratitude for such an enthusiastic audience. One member said, “They clapped and cheered for us.”
After a break for the holidays we started back at Insight in January. The choir was well on their way to preparing another amazing concert, when the world turned upside down in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Encore has been committed to continuing to engage all of our singers. We began and continue to produce rehearsal COVIDeos sent out once or twice a week. Some rehearse the repertoire, while other videos work on vocal technique or lead fun sing-a-longs.
A few weeks ago, we began virtual rehearsals via the Zoom conference platform. The point of choral singing is of course singing together in a group. There’s a large social aspect to our groups. It is wonderful to see everyone’s smiling faces when we meet online each week. The singers are happy to see each other and spend a few minutes check in on each other - what new puzzles they’ve done, honey-do list chores, etc. The actual singing is the biggest difference. Conference platforms are designed for a single-speaker, not simultaneous singing. So, when we sing, the singers are muted and they only hear me singing and playing piano and themselves singing. As a conductor it is strange to have a rehearsal and NOT hear your singers. However, that is really not the point at this time. The point is connecting with my singers, and giving them the opportunity to sing with their care partners, have some exercise with Rachel, and connect with each other. My Mondays continue to be a highlight of my week. I am so looking forward to seeing them all in person very soon.