Community choirs come in many shapes and sizes – from professional and semiprofessional groups to organizations for people who love to sing and make music to come together to create something new… and many in between. We hope to feature many of these different kinds of community ensembles through this ongoing Pepper Spotlight component of the Community Choir eClub, sharing both their stories and repertoire.
The spotlight this month focuses on an adult 50+ community choir that centers on building musicianship and vocal fundamentals as well as creating a community of voices who just love to sing. This chorus is part of the University of Delaware’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, open to adults ages 50 and over. The OLLI Chorus is a 75-voice four-part choral group for experienced singers who meet at least twice a week preparing for end-of-semester performances on campus and out in the community. Members of the choir include career retirees from the military and members of the medical, business, industrial manufacturing and performing arts fields. Of course, most are grandparents – the most important profession of all!
The OLLI Chorus sings for the residents of many retirement communities, regularly opens the December series of Brown Bag Luncheon Concerts on the first Friday of December, and this past spring performed as part of the annual Dover Days Celebration.
The mission of OLLI is to enjoy classes, teach, exchange ideas and travel for intellectual development, cultural stimulation, personal growth and social interaction in an academic cooperative by its members, who volunteer their time and talents. Making music together fosters caring for one another, new friendships, finding others who enjoy the performing arts, and meeting other adults who are supportive and encouraging in each other’s goals as a part of this performing ensemble.
Over the 20+ years of its existence, the OLLI Chorus has had four conductors. Mrs. Janet Spengler-Miller, the current music director, has served since 2014. During her 35-year music teaching career she has taught in Pennsylvania, New York, New Mexico, Maryland, and Delaware. She earned her Bachelor of Science in music education at Lebonon Valley College and her Master of Science in choral music at Towson University. In addition to teaching, she was the founder and director of the Diamond State Choraliers, an adult community choir, and taught applied piano at Wesley College. She served as President of the Delaware Music Educators Association and Teacher Chair of the Commission for Curriculum Standards in the Performing and Visual Arts for all Delaware students. In 2002 she was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award, given by the DMEA, and the Jesse Ball duPont Award, given by the Delaware Symphony, for her state-wide contributions to the arts and specifically the field of music education.
Regarding the importance of adult community choirs, Mrs. Spengler-Miller says:
“Keeping one’s brain busy solving new musical challenges is invigorating, pleasurable, satisfying, and necessary to maintain health. Being aware of the attributes of the aging brain, the repertoire through the years for the chorus included music that many had learned in their youth, vocal standards, American folk songs, classical standards, the Great American Songbook favorites, as well as contemporary selections from new composers.”
“It is always true that the capacity of our brains to remember music from long ago helps those with serious memory issues to relate, to socialize, to feel some self-worth and pride in their accomplishments. As their music director it is worth all the planning and rehearsal time to see the sheer enjoyment and love of music wash over their faces as we perform a piece that is meaningful and that we have worked together to perfect musically.”
“As current research shows, to stay healthy in the senior years, one must stay active. Keeping our brains busy solving new musical challenges is invigorating, pleasurable, satisfying, and necessary to maintain health. The camaraderie that I get to observe among the four vocal sections is gratifying and worth all of the hard work of the selection of appropriate music and teaching the various technical skills in order to perform well.”
Carol Nile of Chesapeake City is the piano accompanist for the OLLI Chorus. She began studying the piano at age seven and has been accompanying her entire adult life. In addition to teaching middle school music, she has always been involved in church music as an organist, pianist, and/or choir director. Carol is also the piano accompanist for the Delaware Women’s Choir which recently returned from their European tour.