Welcome to Encore Illinois’ blog!
Here we’ll be posting updates, stories, and other items of interest regarding Encore, creativity for older adults, and anything else that we think is cool. Pop in any time or check our Facebook page to see when a new blog has been posted!
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(The little text is a summary).
by Sandy Siegel Miller, Encore Illinois Board President This isn’t an unusual scene at Encore rehearsals -what’s unusual is that I took a photo. The Hinsdale rehearsal ended about 15 minutes before this photo was taken and around half of the choir had already headed out into the rest of their day. The ones that remained have put on their coats in preparation for the drizzly, cold early-November weather, but they’re standing in little groups, talking. There’s a similar scene at the end of rehearsal in our six other Encore choirs as well. The formation of community was not the primary goal when Jonathan and I started Encore Illinois; we focused on creating a quality musical experience and giving older adults a way to continue singing – daytime rehearsals, fun but challenging repertoire. So for us to realize that for many of our singers, Encore has helped them make new friendships and in some cases, reconnect with old friends is an unexpected joy. I recently read about a paper that was presented at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association summarizing some research on the negative effects of social isolation. The author, Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad of Brigham Young University, did two reviews of existing research on the health effects of isolation. The first reviewed 218 studies and found that higher social connectedness is linked to a 50 percent decrease in risk of early death. The second summarized studies that included over 3.4 million people in North America, Europe, Australia, and Asia, and found that loneliness and living alone, can be as bad for a person’s health as other health risks. An AARP study suggested that profound social isolation is as detrimental to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. The same study revealed that over one third of people age 45 and up reported feeling lonely. Social isolation and poor health go hand in hand. And the negative effects may be greater than previously thought. Being connected to others is a basic human need. Our friendships and family are not just pleasures; they are essential to our survival and well-being. We need each other. As the Hinsdale singers headed for the door, I could hear them talking about plans for lunch, or asking about the doctor’s appointment from last week, or offering a word of encouragement or sympathy. Singing together connects us; we stand next to each other and create sound. We laugh about our mistakes, rejoice in our mastery, conquer a score that we thought was way too challenging, and in the process make new friends. And who knew that it may very well allow us extra years to enjoy our lives.
Encore has to buy things, especially printed things. If you’re like me, you like knowing where you can get a great price on something. We have a great vendor in Virginia for much of our sheet music, East Coast Music; they are very flexible and responsive. For routine office supplies like blank CDs and color laser toner, we usually use Amazon Prime. However, there’s nothing like the touch of a great businessperson right in your backyard, someone you know and trust and can look in the eye and ask for help.
A few weeks ago, we were getting ready for our big Encore Rocks! concert downtown at Fourth Presbyterian Church on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. Since many new registrations come from people who come to hear our live concerts, we decided to create a banner that would help people find information about signing up. “Who should print the banner for us?” was the question of the morning. We have given some printing work, especially when we were just getting started in early 2016, to Vistaprint, an online retailer with a snazzy website. Their pricing is super for some things, okay for other things, and high for others, and you always get charged for shipping (sometimes a lot, especially for a rush job). Also, they do their printing in Windsor, Ontario for the Chicago market, so the carbon footprint isn’t so great when we order from them. (As for carbon footprints: I read a fabulous book last year called Care for Creation: A Franciscan Spirituality of the Earth [you can see more here], and it made me truly conscious for the first time about my own use of fossil fuels, not just when I’m doing the driving but when others, including Amazon and Southwest Airlines, are doing the driving or flying for me.) After Sandy and I browsed on Vistaprint and made up a mock banner design—which I didn’t like because our options for layout were limited—I said to her, “You know, let’s give Dave a shot at this project. I bet he can do something good, and we won’t have to pay to ship it from Canada.”
The Guy Down the Street
Our local printer, Dave Dipple, owner of Maximum Printing in downtown Downers Grove, has saved Encore’s bacon on more than one occasion. They do great work, are quick to complete it, and give us excellent pricing. So I called Dave. What he said knocked me out: “Well, Jon, as it turns out, we have a whole pile of used banners that we got back from the Nature Conservancy. We printed those for them a while back, and when they didn’t need them any longer, they returned the banners to us as a donation, on one condition: we had to reuse the metal hardware for a good cause when someone else told us they needed a banner. Encore fits the definition of a good cause, so I’m going to print the banner and give you the hardware—the base, and the poles that hold the thing up—for free. How does that sound?” That’s a no-brainer. I was so happy. The shipping is free, and I can take the dogs for a drive when I go the seven minutes to downtown Downers, just over the tracks. So here’s a picture of me and Dave with the banner: Then Dave offered to take me in the back and show me the machine where the banners are printed. I’m enough of a printing geek that I jumped at the chance. Here’s the new big HP printer that heats the ink, so that it sort of bakes onto the printing surface – very cool. I’d never get to see that if I ordered from Canada. Anyway, it feels great to know someone like Dave. We have helped one another out, and I know I can turn to him in a pinch or just under routine circumstances. He gets all my business when I am printing new compositions, like the new Wacky Christmas Carol that we’re singing this fall, and he turned around the invitations for a fundraiser for our upcoming Alzheimer’s choir like lightning. (The Alzheimer’s choir, for early-stage dementia patients and their care partners, is slated to begin in the fall of 2018 on the Gold Coast. Watch this space for updates, and let us know if you’re interested in being a volunteer or in helping out in some other way.) Dave is just one of the champions that make Encore’s work possible. He did not pay me to write any of this; I am just doing it to thank him for being a mensch. If you’d like to talk to Dave, he’s at www.maximumprinting.com or 630-737-0270, and tell him that Jonathan from Encore sent you. I also am in love with the organic vegetables that we get from Green Earth Institute in Naperville, but that’s a topic for another day. In any case, let’s hear it for buying local!
We are pleased and excited that three of our singers were featured in this new article on the Chorus America website about the experiences that older adults have singing in a choir. The article features Helen Gagel from the Evanston Encore Chorale, Jim Lavin from the Hinsdale Encore Chorale, and Karen McGuire from the Arlington Heights Encore Chorale. Thanks and congratulations to Helen, Jim, and Karen! Here is the link to the full article: https://www.chorusamerica.org/node/7670
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.
When did you first sing in a choir, and what got you started?
Age 11, Somerset County (N.J.) Music Festival, Elementary School Chorus, loved making harmony.
When did you first sing in a choir, and what got you started? If Encore is your first choir, what recently drew you in? Sang in choir in concert choir and swing choir in high school. List three adjectives that describe the way singing makes you feel. Happy, communicative, accomplished. In what ways do you share music with the loved ones in your life? Make up personal songs for each grandchild. I did that for my sons too. Sing songs to grandchildren frequently when we are together. What has been your most rewarding choral experience so far? Loved the high school swing choir. The Encore chorale energized me. What is your life’s most memorable musical moment, choral or not? Impossible to choose. Overall the connection between me and grandchildren via music. Is there anything on your musical bucket list- an experience you’d like to have in music? Would love to see Streisand live. What do you like best about being part of Encore? Connections to others. What words do you have to share for anyone who is both interested in singing in a choir and nervous about starting out? Just come try it. There are a variety of singing levels in the group. What three songs would you want on a desert island? “Bridge over Troubled Water,” “When the Sun Goes a Down,” and “Hallelujah Chorus.”
As Jonathan and I prepare to begin our summer sessions of Encore “Rocks”, and look ahead at both the challenge and excitement of creating the musical experience, it’s easy to get caught up in the details:
- do we need to make a seating chart, now that the Clare choir has 75 people?
- what if the 25 extra copies of “Beach Boys” that are on backorder don’t get here in time?
- are we going to do lanyard name tags or stickers?
And all of those details are important―critical, even. Insufficient attention to those can have a negative effect on everyone’s experience, and can certainly distract from what we come together to do. So lots of our time in these weeks before the first rehearsal is at the service of making the rehearsals go smoothly, anticipating potential problems and assuring that they don’t happen, and figuring out how the “housekeeping” part of rehearsal can be quick and efficient―we want to get to the fun and singing! But details can get a little tedious. So I’ve been paying attention to how Jon and I handle that. I’m, by nature, more of the detail-person―I derive far more satisfaction than Jon does in crossing things off my to-do list, in seeing the tidy stack of 100 music packets tucked in their box, in putting the 50th (and final) Tenor/Bass practice CD in the burner. Jonathan’s creative spirit is quickly bogged-down with checklists and invoices. He escapes into the music. His hands may be dutifully putting CD’s in sleeves, or typing a concert schedule, but the whole time, he’s humming, “It’s My Party”. His mind is far away from the details―he’s already at our final concert at Fourth Presbyterian, rock band and all! And my mind? I’m thinking about what it is that we’re doing―not the music part (thankfully, Jon’s got that covered!) ―but the people part. I’m thinking back to the end of one of our Hinsdale rehearsals, last April. As singers left Rotary North, I was standing at the back of the room, dealing with a couple of questions, and I watched four of our singers gather at the door. They were waiting for a fifth singer, and were heading out to have lunch together. They chatted happily as they walked out, and I realized that until Encore brought them together in January, only two of them knew each other. The experience of coming together to sing and their wish to be part of a choir, had created some new friendships. How cool! Encore is about great singing, for sure. Jonathan puts his heart and talents into making a quality rehearsal that’s also fun. He’s committed to teaching and helping everyone to grow as singers. The creative process, as expressed in the arts, is his passion. That’s certainly what Encore is about. And at the same time, it’s also about another kind of creating―the creation of community. We start out as (mostly) strangers; we come together every week with a goal of making music together; we share the hard work of hitting the right notes and blending our voices; we make mistakes and share in our mastery; we laugh together and give ourselves a “high five” after we finally conquer those tricky measures. And all the while, a connection is being woven, a bond is being formed. As we stand together week after week, literally sharing vibrations as well as sharing bits of our lives, we become knitted together. As you probably already know, much is written about the health benefits of choral singing, both physical health and mental health. Certainly much of that is a result of singing itself; breathing deeply, the good posture it encourages, the stretching we do in warm-up, etc. And although less is written about it, and it’s certainly harder to document in a research study, the creation of community and the relationships that are made enhance our health as well. We humans are social beings; we depend on, and thrive on, our connections to each other. Last winter I heard a singer comment to her fellow soprano that coming to the 10:00 rehearsal was the first time she’d spoken with anyone that day. We need connection. We need to feel that we are not alone. So when I hear singers talking at our mid-rehearsal break, and they’re sharing photos of a new grandson, or asking how it went at the doctor’s appointment last week, or asking if someone has time to grab a cup of coffee after rehearsal, I am filled with joy. We’re creating many things, music for sure―and also joy and health and connections. So as I print out the 93rd name tag, my heart is full. That’s what this is all about.
It was a treat to be interviewed last week by Sara Clarkson, who wrote about our upcoming Encore Rocks! Hinsdale summer session, which meets Wednesday evenings from 6:30-8:00pm at The Community House, for 10 weeks starting June 14th. She clearly had a great time learning about us. I got to send her this fun picture from last summer in Hinsdale, too.
What I Enjoyed in the Interview
Sara was interested in the whole picture about Encore—how we got started, what inspires our music-making, who’s drawn to our Chorales for older adults, and more. I enjoyed doing a quick recap of our growth in the Chicago area. Click on the Tribune link above to see her writeup.
What The Article Left Out
One of the things that didn’t get into the article was something Sara asked about toward the end of the interview: what was particularly rewarding for me in working with the kind of singer who sings in Encore. Her question allowed me to explain, for someone not in our choir, something that we talk about in rehearsal often: the commitment to communicate the emotion in the lyrics of a song. She was alluding to the fact that there are children’s choirs, high-school choirs, and so on, and implying that not every direct seeks out a non-auditioned group of older adults! I told Sara that I love the part in the rehearsal process that usually starts about halfway into the session, when the notes are getting more comfortable and people are starting to internalize the music. It’s that magical time when we really start to talk about the emotions and how to deliver them to the audience. I described how much I get out of encouraging each of the singers to process the lyric through his or her own emotional history and personal landscape—and how that individual work from each singer shapes how we sing together. I told her, “When we did ‘Send in the Clowns,’ and I asked the singers to sing from their own experience of being rejected in love, they all had something to draw on… you can’t get to this age without having your heart broken at least once, and we really do draw on that in performance. High schoolers just won’t give you that depth of emotion.” Of course, it’s a real high when we succeed at this challenge. On May 3rd, the son of one of our singers in Hyde Park attended the concert at Montgomery Place to cheer on his mom. He told me, after our performance, how that song had affected him more than any other on the program: “I confess, I got a little teary during that one.” That seemed like a high compliment, since he’s a musician too. He wasn’t the only one, either. All of our Chorales got to that point with that song this spring; it’s a testament to what we are able to accomplish in Encore. It’s also a compliment to Sondheim that his music and lyrics can get that sort of chemistry from all of us! Here’s the link to the article again:
If you’d like to see more about the summer choir, click here: Encore Rocks! Hinsdale. Thanks, Sara!
Ilene Alpert is our singer profile for this week and a wonderful member of our Evanston Chorale. Read on to get to know her more. When did you first sing in a choir, and what got you started? If Encore is your first choir, what recently drew you in? I began singing with a choir in high school. A wonderfully talented choral director took a special interest. I have been singing since I was a very young child. List three adjectives that describe the way singing makes you feel. Alert, careful, joyous, challenged, connected. In what ways do you share music with the loved ones in your life? My husband supports me by coming to concerts and listening to practice. What has been your most rewarding choral experience so far? Currently I sing with Encore and North Shore Harmonizers. They are both very gratifying. What is your life’s most memorable musical moment, choral or not? My life’s most memorable musical moment is singing the Messiah in Orchestra Hall. I hate to think about how young I was then! Is there anything on your musical bucket list- an experience you’d like to have in music? Yes, I would have loved to study voice. Unfortunately, it was not an option at the time. What do you like best about being part of Encore? Well, I like many things about Encore. Probably the best part is learning from Jonathan. What words do you have to share for anyone who is both interested in singing in a choir and nervous about starting out? I’d say, “Don’t wait. It’s a great experience. Everyone is friendly. You don’t know how it will be until you try it.” What three songs would you want on a desert island? “I’ve Got Plenty of Nothing,” “S’Wonderful,” and “Ebb Tide.”
I love the image of mending nets. Traditionally, there are times when fishermen take a break from catching fish and remain on shore. One those days, they do things that might seem unimportant but turn out to be essential. This could take place on rainy days, or in a season when fish are not so plentiful. “Mending our nets” is also a metaphor for a fallow season, long or short. This could be the time to rest a field from crop planting, or it could just be an hour spent going for a walk instead of doing work. A personal Sabbath can accomplish a similar breathing-in and breathing-out on a weekly basis. Early in 2017 I decided to pursue the practice of a personal Sabbath, and I’ve been about 80% successful in doing this. I relish that down-time now. I’m grateful to Paul Nicholson, the gifted music director at St. Clement Parish in Lincoln Park, for inspiration to make that restfulness a priority. In both the Encore choirs and Chicago a cappella, we’re now at that point in the yearly cycle where it feels like we’re mending our nets. Just last night we were auditioning singers for a few holes in the CAC roster for next season. Like net-mending, auditions are a required activity for maintaining a strong ensemble. It’s been a few years since we did an intense “round 2” audition, where the candidates in a particular voice part get together and sing in painstakingly nerdy combinations of two and three voices to see what constitutes the best vocal blend. I’m also getting ready for a research trip to Poland, to stock the pond of CAC’s repertoire with music from a culture that’s largely new to our group. I’m also putting together several new programs for 2017-18, some more collaboratively and some more down the “Jonathan rabbit-hole.”
Not Exactly Summer Vacation
With Encore too, I have a to-do list that feels like it’s a mile long. However, I mostly have the next 4 weeks off from rehearsals and concerts. There’s much-needed room in the brain to think about other things. It’s a nice variation from worrying how I’m going to get from Hyde Park to Arlington Heights on a Wednesday (train or car?) or how to fit 138 people on stage at Fourth Pres. There are many back-end tasks to do, such as finishing up the demo CD tracks and selecting repertoire for the fall and spring shows. Then there’s the big push to fund and launch the Alzheimer’s choir in February. Still, I do enjoy the chance to breathe a bit more. I am enjoying the extra time with Sandy, to kick ideas around, to set and juggle and reset priorities, to dream and envision our next steps. I’m not much of a homebody and am a pretty off-the-scale extrovert; still, it does feel good to do this. It’s a tonic for my soul, a balm in Gilead of sorts. It’s been a long time since my work cycle has felt this much like a school year. I like it. Starting in June, having two weekly rehearsals of Encore Rocks and the Tuesday sight-singing class feels like it will create a pace like summer school. There is plenty to do, but with room to continue to mend nets and breathe. (Sandy and I have been saying for months now, “Oh, it will be so good when the summer comes, since we’ll be able to _____.” We are also aware that we have filled in the blank with far more things than we’ll actually be able to finish, but it’s good for both of us to dream.) May we all mend our nets with joy.