In her 17 years as a choir director, the words that Jeanne Kelly has spoken more than any other are: “Watch me”.
“I bet I’ve said ‘Look at me’ over 10 million times,” the Annapolis resident said earlier this week, with a smile and a sigh. “They must have their heads off their scores.”
This weekend, Kelly will stop saying “Look at me” and will sit back, relax and just be seen. The 72-year-old will celebrate his stepping down as artistic director of Encore Creativity for Older Adults with a gala dinner at the JW Marriott in Washington, DC on Friday and Saturday with a choral concert at the Strathmore Music Center in Bethesda. (A handful of $150 dinner tickets remain, while the concert is general admission, with a suggested donation of at least $10. All patrons must wear masks.)
Members of more than a dozen Encore choirs in the DMV area – including many singers from its 82-member Annapolis Encore Choir – will come together to form a 300-voice choir to perform in Strathmore.
All singers are over 55. But don’t expect senior citizens to chirp Golden Oldies in unison. They are sopranos, altos, tenors and basses singing in painstakingly rehearsed harmony.
“We keep it as professional as possible,” Kelly says. “We talk a lot about technique.”
“There’s a certain pride in what we do,” adds Janie Powers, 75, a Tracys Landing resident who sings the alto section of Encore Chorale d’Annapolis. “It affects our performance.”
As a professional soprano, Kelly earned a master’s degree from the Peabody Conservatory and has performed with the Washington National Opera, Annapolis Opera, the Old Baltimore Opera and many other companies. She retired from solo roles at age 47 to focus on teaching, primarily at the Arlington campus of Levine Music. Her work with the elderly became full-time in 2005.
When George Washington University psychiatrist Dr. Gene D. Cohen heard about Kelly’s singing lessons in retirement communities, he asked her to form three choirs and participate in a study funded by the National Endowment for the Arts.
“I had no idea what I was getting into,” Kelly said. “But I said I would try.”
“The Creativity and Aging Study: The Impact of Professionally Conducted Cultural Programs on Older Adults”, is now considered the gold standard in geriatric psychiatry, proving that while music therapy and like-minded programs are great, older adults get away with it. come out even better when challenged by professional artists to perform at their best.
Over a two-year period, Cohen, Kelly and their colleagues found that participation in choirs improved singers’ morale, reduced the risk of depression and decreased reports of loneliness compared to older adults in control groups.
“They had something to look forward to,” Kelly said. “They had a purpose and someone who believed in them.”
“This was the first study of its kind,” Beth Bienvenu, director of the NEA’s Office of Accessibility, said in a statement. “Since then, the field of creative aging has flourished and grown.”
Encore has been key to this expansion. Kelly founded the nonprofit after the study ended, and over the past 15 years, Encore’s reach has grown steadily throughout the mid-Atlantic. When the number of choirs reached nine, it hired additional conductors and franchised its program to establish affiliate choirs in New York, Delaware, and Ohio.
Members pay tuition, but scholarships are available.
“Anyone who wants to sing can sing,” Kelly said.
And as her friend Powers points out, “There are no auditions. Thank you Jesus.”
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Each group gives a spring concert in a room as grandiose as Encore can reserve. And over the summers, Encore has offered European tours and camps at St. John’s College, Washington College, St. Mary’s College, and the Chautauqua Institution.
In cities like Annapolis where classically-focused choirs have worked well, some singers have expressed interest in expanding their repertoire, prompting Kelly to found what she calls ROCKS choirs, as well as summer camps. pop music focused. For example, Washington College’s 2022 Repertoire of the Week includes a suite of songs from the movie “Forrest Gump,” “Build Me Up, Buttercup” made famous by The Foundations, and “You Learn” from Alanis Morrisette’s iconic album. in 1995 “Jagged”. Little pill.
Believe it or not, the Gen Xers who were 30 when Morrisette first asked them to live and learn are now old enough to sing in Encore ROCKS.
To ensure that older Americans present and future still have a place to sing, Encore’s Board of Directors has hired a new CEO and Artistic Director. Bryan J. Isaac, founder of the Church Circle Singers in Annapolis, became artistic director, while Joshua Vickery moved from Florida to Annapolis to take care of administrative duties.
“I laugh about it, but it took two men to replace me,” Kelly said.
She will always be involved with Encore, perhaps as a conductor emeritus. But her tech consultant husband Larry Kelly also retired this month, and the couple plan to sail to the Bahamas in October and stay there until spring. Then she will return to Annapolis and re-evaluate what she needs to still feel creatively fulfilled as she ages.
As Kelly signs each email, she intends to “Sing!”