As a student director of a community choir in Ithaca, NY, I was very excited when I learned that there would be a session on the aging voice at the Minneapolis conference! This informative session was presented by Sangeetha Rayapati and Michael Zemek. They began by having everyone in the room name some things that they enjoy and some issues they've encountered when working with volunteer choirs. We discovered that many of us in the room had had similar experiences; most people expressed that they were constantly inspired by the joys of community choir, but they were simultaneously perplexed by some of the problems that persist in this setting.
Ms. Rayapati explained that some of the challenges of working with "third-agers" (or individuals aged 55-75 whose lives are, in some way, in transition) exist partially because of emotional/personal reasons. There are people in this age group who could once sing effortlessly, but their instruments are not what they used to be, and that is a difficult adjustment. There are also those who are struggling with change and loss in their lives outside of the choral rehearsal room, and their emotions play a part in their ability to participate in music making. Ms. Rayapati encouraged all of us to think of ourselves as "active agents of active aging," and to take a holistic approach to conducting and teaching that seeks to address not only musical considerations, but personal issues as well.
Mr. Zemek cited examples of situations in which a choir member might not feel welcomed as a member of the ensemble. These scenarios involved physical and cognitive limitations that come with age that require accommodations. He expressed the importance of ensuring that every member of your choir feels comfortable advocating for their individual needs so that they don't feel less capable of singing as they get older. Community choirs must empower "third-agers" to continue to enjoy singing, so that music can be a tool that helps them through a time of transition.
Together, we all sang through a few vocalises that had been designed specifically with aging voices in mind. I am excited to try them out with my community choir back in Ithaca! Ms. Rayapati and Michael Zemek also provided us with a great list of resources on the subject of changing voices ( attached to this post).
The main idea of this presentation was that both musical and extramusical problems can be solved by taking every individual's needs into account in the community choir rehearsal. "Third-agers" make their best music in a positive, supportive rehearsal environment. I look forward to providing my fellow community choir singers with more opportunities to express themselves and share their stories when I return home!
-Juliana Joy Child, IC ACDA President-Elect
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