Sheila Haennicke is a social worker in the Alzheimer’s field and a college classmate of our artistic director, Jonathan Miller. Sheila’s mother has Alzheimer’s disease, and her dad, Bob Black, sings with Encore in Arlington Heights. Sheila wrote this touching reflection after watching her dad perform with Encore at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library this past May. What a beautiful testament to the way choral singing can stretch us to be our best selves.
“Dad looks nervous,” says my sister Carolyn. It’s true. Our poised and proper father, wearing a black cashmere blazer with a Ralph Lauren shirt and tie, is looking uncharacteristically uneasy before the start of his first performance with the Encore Chorus for seniors.
We are in the Hendrickson Room at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library, a beloved institution from my childhood. It’s a Tuesday afternoon and I’ve taken a precious vacation day to break my work routine and come out to support Dad. More than support – to honor and enjoy his resilient spirit. At age 86, Dad is trying something new. Choral singing. He doesn’t yet read music well, so he relies on the two guys to either side, one of whom told Dad he comes in too early at times. That isn’t surprising, as Dad wears two hearing aids and like most of the other singers, corrected vision. But Encore isn’t about perfection, it’s about participation. Despite his challenges Dad, is pushing himself out of his routine and out of his natural introvertedness, to join with others. It is inspiring. And necessary. As the full-time caregiver for Mom with her advancing dementia, Dad needs this outlet. He needs contact with a world outside of their townhome which is now the epicenter of Mom’s life. He is reaching for more and the least I do is stretch myself – out of my comfort zone for a Tuesday afternoon ─ to acknowledge his victory.
Carolyn and I sit in the front row, beaming. I think of all the performances, graduations, First Communions and Confirmations where it was me, and later, my kids, up there with Mom and Dad in the audience. The role reversal is poignant, but wonderful. Watching Dad relax and join in, singing out, enunciating, doing a few of the corny gestures choir members can do while holding folders full of music ─ like the shoulder shrugs in time to the “bop de bop” lyrics of “Fly Me to the Moon,” and waving pieces of paper with numbers ending in 4 at the end of “When I’m 64”—it’s all delightful. A moment of heaven on the third floor of the library. Not a celestial choir, but one that is just as awesome.
Real people, with real challenges, who are called to make a joyful noise.