Calling all senior singers of color

Opinion: Columns

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By Mary Kay O'Grady

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Faithful readers: I'm repeating parts of a column I wrote a year ago, and adding a plea for singers of color to join the Encore Chorus. After all, Oak Park and River Forest are committed to diversity and so are we.

So … walk, run, swim, do yoga, stretch, lift weights, eat fish, do yoga, eat yogurt, do yoga while eating yogurt, eat chocolate, drink coffee, have sex, do yoga, don't watch too much TV, drink red wine, sleep more, sleep less, do yoga. And, of course, wear sunscreen (advice originally from the Chicago Tribune's Mary Schmich and attributed to Kurt Vonnegut).

But they don't tell you to sing. With others. 

I'm telling you now, and research from the National Institutes of Health agrees. 

Encore choruses for older adults started in the Washington D.C. area following an NIH study that older people do well in an environment that includes the fine arts under the direction of a professional. The idea is expanding. Our superman Encore Illinois Director Jonathan Miller, in partnership with Northwestern University, has started a Good Memories Encore Chorale for those with early dementia and their caregivers.

I freaking love the Encore Chorale. It's for people 55 and over and there are no tryouts! I'm a decent alto when my asthma is in check, and I can carry a tune pretty well. When I first joined, my ability to read music was pretty limited. I'd never sung four-part harmony before, but I'm getting better with the coaching we get in the group from our lovely and upbeat director Linda Crabtree-Powell. The music for each season is selected in advance. You get copies of the music at the first session and a disc to take home with each song sung in all parts and then in your part only! The songs are also online.

There have been times at practices when we've gone over a passage many times and then put it all together and I've thought, "Damn, that's beautiful."

The fall season of the Oak Park and River Forest Encore Chorale begins on Sept. 4. We've been wildly successful in two short years. We've outgrown our practice space at Trinity High School and are moving to the Nineteenth Century Club at Forest and Ontario in Oak Park.

Our local concerts in December and May at Concordia University and Good Shepherd Church have been wonderful, and our joint concerts with the other six Chicago-area Encore choruses have been, well, astonishing, at least to me. When more than 220 of us from all over Chicagoland performed at the historic Fourth Presbyterian Church last spring, I was singing with tears in my eyes, so happy to be a part of that beautiful sound. (Too many superlatives? Can't help it.)

It would be terrific if we had more singers of color — a different glow, if you will. If you sing in a church choir, our Tuesday practices should not interfere. You can come for one free session to see how you like it. It's great.

If you're interested, I'd register soon. A lot of people who came to our spring concerts said they couldn't wait to join. The next session of the OP-RF Encore Chorale begins on Tuesday, Sept. 4, at the Nineteenth Century Club on the corner of Forest and Ontario. For more information or to register, visit encoreillinois.org, email encoreillinois@gmail.com or call 312-342-7227.

The Oak Park/River Forest Chorale is sponsored by River Forest Township, Trinity High School, Concordia University Chicago's Center for Gerontology and the Nineteenth Century Club.

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