Singing Together for a Second Act

Choral singing can be fun, challenging and healthy and you needn’t be a pro to feel like a star. We’ve also included a sampling of singing opportunities in New York City.

By Georgetta Lordi Morque

 

Sight Singing at the Lucy Moses School. (Thumbnail at top right: Teacher Liz Fleischer)
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Belting out your favorite Broadway tune or unleashing your inner rock star—breaking into song can turn a bad mood into a happy one or better yet, make you feel young again. But why sing alone? Whether you’re a former glee club diva, a total newbie or a girl just wanting to have fun, there are programs in the city designed to bring out the singer in you. No experience? No problem. Age? Not a factor.

Linda Long hadn’t sung in a chorus since 1965. When she joined Encore Chorale of NYC, a weekly choral group, she thought she had gone to heaven and stayed there at every rehearsal. “It was hard to do the concert without tears in my eyes,” said Long, whose busy career and personal life had left little time for outside activities. She’s loves being part of a group where she feels she’s contributing and is still viable. “I had taken my 76-year-old body back to my 16-year-old body. It brought me home,” said Long.

With over 1,500 participants, Encore is the nation’s largest and fastest growing choral organization for adults over 55. It provides learning and performance opportunities for older adults, regardless of experience or ability. “There are no auditions,” explained Jeanne Kelly, Encore Founder and Artistic Director, who started the nonprofit, which is headquartered in Annapolis, Md., in 2007. “We try to make it as accessible as possible,” she said.

Encore singers come to weekly daytime rehearsals with a professional conductor and are given the music and a rehearsal CD so they can practice at home. Each 15-week semester—there are two each year—ends with a concert. Newcomers are most welcome and are typically placed next to a more seasoned singer. “Anyone who tries it loves it,” said Kelly, whose background spans over 40 years as a vocal performer, conductor, educator and music administrator. Encore’s New York City choral program, which started in 2018, is one of 15 Encore chorales across the country. There’s also a rock and roll chorus, Encore ROCKS NYC, one of six nationwide. Both Encore Chorale and Encore ROCKS will take place this fall at Encore’s new location at the Third Street Music School Settlement.

Building Confidence and Community

Encore is based on 3 “C”s. The first is getting singers comfortable, which involves familiarizing them with the songs and vocal techniques, as well as working on breathing and posture. “If you are comfortable, then you’ll be more confident and the more courageous you get. Then the chorale comes alive,” said Kelly. Every December, Encore singers from various locations perform together at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Last year, there were 550 singers.

Encore also offers travel and summer camp opportunities which are open to non-Encore participants. Loretta Marion, a widow who sings with the Encore Chorale in the city, recently enjoyed a trip on the Queen Mary where there were rehearsals, a performance plus sightseeing. This year, there’s a summer camp in Chautauqua, N.Y., and next year, there will be a trip to Ireland. “Encore is becoming a community for me,” she said.

25 Years of Broadway Singing

Singing together can foster new friendships and often fill a void in later years. What could be a stronger testament to the power of singing programs than the 25th anniversary of Broadway at 92Y Chorus at the 92nd Street Y. Director Mary Feinsinger, an award-winning composer, lyricist, music director and vocal coach, said the nature of choral singing plus the music are what’s kept it alive. “The music is like a delicious smorgasbord of many different flavors,” said Feinsinger, who experiences a thrill every time the 50 members come together “like primates” to sing in unison.

The chorus, which meets weekly in the evenings, is open to all ages. “With singing, you don’t age out,” said Feinsinger, noting that there are some singers in their 20s and others over 80, including those who always wanted to sing but never had the time. Some singers return year after year. The chorus does require an audition, but it’s really so Feinsinger can get a sense of a person’s voice type, and she likes to meet everyone individually. While experience is preferred, it’s not essential. Feinsinger is inspired by the group members. “They come in terrified, but they gain strength and confidence.”

Author Diana Altman, whose novel, We Never Told, was recently released, became inspired by her husband, who felt the need for music in his life. He had enrolled in the 92nd Street Y’s Sing Your Heart Out program, a weekly group that lets members choose their favorite songs to sing. To get her feet wet, Altman took private lessons with Feinsinger, who then encouraged her to join the chorus. “It’s opened up a whole new world, and I’m learning something completely new which is the fun of it,” said Altman, who finds singing in the chorus challenging yet rewarding. Some people are afraid of singing, but she has found it to be a confidence builder. And when she and her husband drive to Maine, they both sing aloud together, and the miles fly by.

The Broadway at 92Y Chorus held its spring concert at the Y’s Kaufmann Concert Hall. The repertoire included songs from shows such as Call Me Madam and Oliver, and there was also a sing-along with the audience. In addition to the chorus, the 92nd Street Y also offers a more informal group class, Broadway and American Standards Sing-In.

Health Benefits of Choral Singing

Before founding Encore, Jeanne Kelly ran two senior choral groups which were part of a study on the impact of such programs on the physical and mental health and the social functioning of older adults. The study by the late Dr. Gene Cohen, gerontologist at George Washington University, revealed that participants used less medication, had fewer doctor’s visits, experienced less depression and loneliness and had a higher morale.

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SAMPLING OF SINGING OPPORTUNITIES IN NEW YORK CITY

There are many opportunities to sing in New York, from church choirs and community centers to professional chorales and more formal music schools. The following is a sampling of places that are open to older adults without experience or with very little experience.

ENCORE

Encore Rocks NYC
Third Street Music School Settlement, 235 E. 11th Street, New York, NY 10019
A rock and roll chorus. No auditions required. A 15-week semester begins September 9, Mondays, 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Tuition: $295.00.

Encore Chorale of NYC
Third Street Music School Settlement, 235 E. 11th Street, New York, NY 10019
No auditions required. A 15-week semester begins September 9, Mondays, 1:30 to 3:00 p.m. Tuition: $295.00.

92ND STREET Y
1395 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10128, 212-415-5500

Broadway at 92Y Chorus
Founded by Robbie Capp in 1994. Led by renowned teacher Mary Feinsinger. Experienced preferred but not essential. Limited openings. New members are invited to audition on Thursday, October 24. To request an audition time, call 212-415-5580. A 13-week session starts Thursday, October 31, 7 to 9 p.m. A public performance ends the semester. Price from $295.00.

Broadway and American Standards Sing-In
Informal group class led by Mary Feinsinger. No experience necessary and a chance to sing your favorite Broadway hits. At the 92Y.
A sampler class takes place Wednesday, September 25, 6:15 to 7:15 p.m. Price from $30.00.
A 6-week session start Wednesday, October 2, 6:15 to 7:15 p.m. Price from $180.00.

Sing Your Heart Out
A fun group class for adults who love to sing. No experience necessary. Song selection are made by class members. Led by vocal instructor Ann Hoyt. Concludes with a performance for family and friends at the Warburg Lounge. At the 92Y.
A 14-week session starts Tuesday, September 17, 7 to 8 p.m. Price from $450.00.

LUCY MOSES SCHOOL at Kaufman Music Center
129 West 67th Street, New York, NY 10023, 212-501-3360

Sight-Singing for Beginners with teacher Liz Fleischer, hailed as “One of New York’s Great Teachers” by New York Magazine. An intro to sight-reading, ear-training and basic musicianship. Tuesdays, 12 to 2 p.m. and 6:15 to 8:15 p.m. Six sessions started June 11 and go through July 23. $375 plus $5 for materials. Repeats in the fall. Seniors 62+ receive a 10% discount on classes and group lessons and discounts on tickets to many concerts at Merkin Hall.

DOROT
171 West 85th Street, New York, NY 10024, 212-769-2850

DOROT offers Kol Dorot, a senior chorus with a diverse repertoire, from Yiddish and Hebrew to Broadway. Auditions not required. Meets Thursdays from 2:50 to 3:55 p.m. DOROT is a nonprofit organization whose goal is to alleviate social isolation and provide concrete services to older adults.

BROOKLYN COMMUNITY CHORUS
Membership program ($115.00 dues for fall and $115.00 for spring) now accepting wait list applications. Open to all ages, background and musical experiences. Practices and rehearsals on Wednesdays, 7:30 to 9:40 p.m. at the Old First Reformed Church in Park Slope. Performances held a few times a year.

STAR: Senior Theater Acting Repertory
A group of 50+ actors and singers who perform for seniors at veterans’ homes, senior centers and libraries. Singing program of choral, duet, trio and solo. Singers meet every Friday at 12:30 p.m. at the Queens Village Library to prepare for songs associated with select acting scenes. Auditions required. $60 yearly dues.

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Georgetta Lordi Morque is an award-winning freelance writer and public relations consultant who focuses on sports, fitness and health.

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