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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).

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  Click Here to Read More

Sheila’s Reflection

Posted on July 13, 2017
Category: Musings
Sheila Haennicke is a college classmate of our artistic director, Jonathan Miller. Sheila’s mother is an Alzheimer’s patient, 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. Role Reversal “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.Click Here to Read More

Singer Profile: Sue Schoenberg

Posted on June 29, 2017
Category: Uncategorized
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. List three adjectives that describe the way singing makes you feel. Peaceful, joyful, sad In what ways do you share music with the loved ones in your life? Music listening together, going to concerts, opera, playing with rhythm instruments with grandchildren. What has been your most rewarding choral experience so far? “Lux Aeterna” by Tom Porter with Hinsdale Encore Chorale in 2016. What is your life’s most memorable musical moment, choral or not? Listening to Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana. Is there anything on your musical bucket list- an experience you’d like to have in music? Sing West Side Story. What do you like best about being part of Encore? Musical instruction, warm-ups, musicianship, friendliness of Jonathan Miller, our conductor, feeling of camaraderie with other choir members, fostered by Jonathan Miller. What words do you have to share for anyone who is both interested in singing in a choir and nervous about starting out? If you enjoy singing in harmony with others, it’s wonderful to work on something together with other people, and it’s wonderful to express your love of music through singing in harmony. What three songs would you want on a desert island? “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” “Shenandoah,” and “O Mio Babbino Caro.”  Click Here to Read More

Singer Profile: Jan Harnish

Posted on June 29, 2017
Category: Uncategorized
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.”  Click Here to Read More

Sandy’s Thoughts: Starting the Summer

Posted on June 6, 2017
Category: Musings
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.  Click Here to Read More
Encore Rocks is featured in the Doings in Hinsdale this week. It’s online now and will appear in print shortly. Here’s the link: http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/hinsdale/lifestyles/ct-dhd-column-clarkson-tl-0601-20170524-column.html 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: http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/hinsdale/lifestyles/ct-dhd-column-clarkson-tl-0601-20170524-column.html If you’d like to see more about the summer choir, click here: Encore Rocks! Hinsdale. Thanks, Sara!  Click Here to Read More

Singer Profile: Ilene Alpert

Posted on May 23, 2017
Category: Uncategorized
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.”Click Here to Read More

Summertime: Mending Our Nets

Posted on May 16, 2017
Category: Musings
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.Click Here to Read More

Singer Profile: Joan Eagle

Posted on May 11, 2017
Category: Uncategorized
Our singer profile for this week is Joan Eagle! Joan is a member of the Encore Gold Coast Chorale. Keep reading to learn more about her! What is your name? Joan Eagle When did you first sing in a choir, and what got you started? If Encore is your first choir, what recently drew you in? In high school. I loved it so much I got two degrees in Music Education and conducting and have been singing ever since. List three adjectives that describe the way singing makes you feel. Joyful, engrossed and productive. In what ways do you share music with the loved ones in your life? I take them to concerts. What has been your most rewarding choral experience so far? When the choir I have been singing with for the last 20 years was invited to sing “Il Pensiero” with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. What is your life’s most memorable musical moment, choral or not? Conducting parts of a requiem with the University of Michigan choir. What do you like best about being part of Encore? Meeting new people who share my enjoyment of music. What words do you have to share for anyone who is both interested in singing in a choir and nervous about starting out? You don’t know what you’re missing until you try it. What three songs would you want on a desert island? Selections from the Faure and Brahms requiems, “Total Praise” by Richard Smallwood, and something by Stephen Sondheim.  Click Here to Read More

Encore’s First-Ever Sight-Singing Class!

Posted on April 25, 2017
Category: Uncategorized
Have you ever wanted to learn how to read music and improve your musicianship? If so, we have the perfect class for you! This sight-reading and ear-training class will be taught by Jonathan Miller, founder of Chicago a cappella and artistic director for the Encore Illinois choirs. In this 6-week summer course, you will be taught essentials of intervals, rhythms, and more. Classes start June 20 and run through August 1 (no class on July 4). They will take place on the River Forest campus of Concordia University. Tuition is $95 with advanced registration required. No previous sight-singing experience required. Maximum 30 students. Click here to register today!   This course is co-sponsored by Concordia University Chicago’s Center for Gerontology. Encore Illinois is an affiliate of Encore Creativity, the nation’s largest and fastest-growing choral-music organization for older adults.Click Here to Read More