Multi-generational Harmony: Working Effectively with Older Singers to Recharge, Respect, and Retain
The founder and artistic director Jeanne Kelly of “Encore” presented an informative workshop on the importance in understanding how to teach the older singer. Encore is a community choral program for older singers 55 years of age and over. Ms. Kelly has found through years of working with older singers that being in a choir reduces depression, amount of medication, physical falls, and boosts morale and social happiness. Even though this is statistically reinforced, Ms. Kelly points out that many of our college institutions teaches music education majors the pedagogy of elementary through college-aged people, but not past that. But the reality is that there is a huge need for educated music teachers who understand the ability and aspects in teaching older voices, especially as community choirs and multigenerational choirs gain popularity. They need conductors who are engaging, caring, respectful, and invigorating. Ms. Kelly urges, “Challenge them, but respect them, and above all, have humor.” Often we are “too careful” with this age group, but during the session, Jeanne Kelly confidently smiled and stated, “We can take it.”
Ms. Kelly gave us several important pointers to be conscious of as we teach the older voice, and a handful of exercises that she uses with Encore. For physical and vocal exercises, she suggests:
One thing that Ms. Kelly stressed is the importance of continually checking posture. Sitting all day, looking at the computer, and old age, are all factors that go into a habit of bad posture. She uses the phrase, “Feel like your ears are over your shoulders.” This immediately straightens their posture. She also encourages not to use the word “drop” for “drop your jaw,” but instead, “relax your jaw.” The word “drop” is evocative of everything drooping down and collapsing in, which is what you want to avoid. Ms. Kelly mentioned that she does posture checks at least 30 times in a rehearsal – constant reminders are necessary especially when working with older aged people. She works with the hips and allows people to sit if they must.
Other things to consider if you are working with this age group: repertoire (consider tessitura, agility, stamina, and intervallic leaps, but also be sure it is enjoyable yet challenging), vocal ability (varied experience, diminished range/control, pitch problems, and excessive vibrato), and format and logistics of the rehearsals (music stands, seating, large print of the sheet music, buddy system for those who need it, rehearsal CDs *a great resource*, carpools – don’t let lack of transportation be the reason someone drops out of choir, daytime rehearsals when possible).
Jeanne Kelly implored us to understand that “music is their lifeline.” For a lot of them, this is their social time of the week. Yes, strive for excellence and challenge them, but don’t allow specifics to get in the way of them continuing to sing. This is an important takeaway.
This session was extremely helpful and eye-opening to how I can help my own community choir that I student-conduct back in Ithaca, the Dorothy Cotton Jubilee Singers. I know that I will try out some of the exercises she suggested and focus much more on posture throughout the upcoming rehearsals. I hope that you also find some of this post to be informative to improving your older-generational choir!
-Sunhwa Reiner ‘16, President of IC ACDA
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