Oak Park/River Forest Sounds Good! Choir in concert, conducted by Linda Crabtree Powell. | Photo by David M. Goldman

Some who want to do good, pay it forward. Then there are those who sing it forward — supporting each other through difficult times and triumphs; sharing a love of music to learn a new skill, awaken a dormant one, or to keep song in one’s soul, bringing joy to the community. 

“The last concert, everybody was happy,” said Gordon Waldron, Sounds Good! Choir member from Oak Park. “I invited somebody to the concert, and he was happy. Later that evening, I tipped the Uber driver more because I was happy. I figured, he probably passed that on. I call that ‘Chain Reactions of Happiness.’ I think everybody who sang had a similar experience … and all those are a huge explosion of happiness.”

The Sounds Good! Choir, formerly Encore Chorale, originated in the Washington D.C. area. It was the result of George Washington University’s Creativity and Aging Study, which showed older adults engaged in the arts were in better physical and mental health. While Encore Creativity still exists, Encore Illinois, which started in 2016, changed its name this season when it became its own entity. There are seven Sounds Good! Choirs in Illinois with 400 members.

The Oak Park/River Forest group is the largest and is led by Conductor Linda Crabtree Powell, retired choral director of Trinity High School and creator of BRAVO at Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School. All Sounds Good! Choirs are led by professional choral directors.

The OP/RF choir began three years ago with 30 singers and now numbers 100, ranging in age from 53 to 93.

“People flock to sing with her,” said Barbara Hausman, a lifelong Oak Park/River Forest resident. “She walks that interesting line between wanting it to be fun, enjoyable, and having connection, and keeping some discipline and direction and musicality.”

The group rehearses every Tuesday for 1.5 hours during the season for two annual programs. Rehearsals are more than singing and fine tuning music for performances. There is a somber moment to remember a member’s recent memorial service. Judy Steed announces her art exhibit and sale at the River Forest Public Library, in which some proceeds are donated to the Good Memories Chorus, an offshoot of Sounds Good! Illinois. Members hear about Oak Parker Miguel de Leon’s solo performance at the National Museum of Mexican Art and how he’ll perform one of the solos at the Sounds Good! spring concert.

Hausman, who claims she came out of the womb singing, said the best part of the choir is interpersonal connection. 

“It’s harder to make friends when you’re older,” she said, but Hausman has made new friends and is helping to foster a sense of community among choir members with a photo directory.

The choir is a non-audition group and fits many older adults’ schedules because attendance is not mandatory. All singers, through purchase or scholarship, receive music and practice CDs for each program. For the OP/RF group, one member makes a recording of each rehearsal available. There are also “tune-ups” held for all Sounds Good! members as a review.

“It has enriched my life more than I can say,” said Sheila Scott, retired Trinity English teacher who had not sung before this since she was herself a student. “I get the satisfaction of having learned the music, the excitement of performing, and also, just socially, I have never met such a wonderful, warm, welcoming, generous group.”

The Sounds of Spring Concert features songs such as “Blue Skies,” “Moon River,” “And All that Jazz” and “Edelweiss” accompanied by piano. Besides the local show, all seven Sounds Good! Choirs combined for a concert at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago.

Powell said the entire process brings her joy — from selecting music, to rehearsing notes and rhythm, teaching and articulating the music, through conducting the final performance.

“I want it to be a great experience, but I also have high expectations of what I want the final performance to be,” said Powell, a River Forest resident. “Seeing them improve and prepare for the programs in such a committed way … it’s really rewarding.”

See “Sounds of Spring” performed by the Oak Park/River Forest Sounds Good! Choir, Friday, May 10, 7 p.m., Pilgrim Congregational Church, 460 Lake St., Oak Park. Free admission. 

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