As a member of the Towson Encore Chorale for 10 years, Esther Layton has enjoyed being part of a group that allows her to sing and perform around the area. It has also provided her with support through difficult times.
“It kept me strong after my husband died,” Layton said. “It keeps me going. It keeps me young. I just love it.”
Founded 10 years ago, Encore Chorale, a nonprofit organization, provides those ages 55 and older a chance to sing with a group and perform. No auditions are required to join one of the 21 chorales that operate in the Baltimore-Washington area. The groups meet in 15-week sessions that end with a series of concerts.
“As the voice ages, changes take place,| said Jeanne Kelly, Encore’s founder and artistic director. “People just don’t stop singing because they get old. Our conductors don’t think of them as old singers.”
At a recent rehearsal of the Columbia Encore Chorale, conductor Stephen Harouff kept the group of more than 40 singers moving through several pieces of holiday music in preparation for its upcoming performances Dec. 9 and 10. Harouff good-naturedly teased the singers about still needing their music and coached various sections, from tenors to sopranos, through tricky parts in the music.
“We’re at the point when I can be picky,” he reminded the group after a few grumbles about a piece.
Harouff learned about Encore Chorale a few years ago, on the first day of his job at Towson Presbyterian Church, where he is music director and organist. Kelly approached him looking for rehearsal space.
“We talked for a bit and she said, ‘How about you take this job?’” said Harouff, who has been the conductor of the Towson Encore Chorale since September 2014 and helped to launch Columbia’s chorale two years ago.
<FZ,1,0,23>“They’re fantastic,” Harouff said of the singers in both groups.“I get to meet them where they are. I counter-balance the aging effect and figure out how to continue to keep their voice healthy.”
“We love him,” Layton said, who first sang in the group under Kelly, who founded the Towson chorale in 2007. “He was someone new and so young. He’s grown and with his growth, we have grown.”
All of the Encore Chorales rehearse the same music. At the first rehearsal, singers are given a CD of the music with their part featured along with all parts together, Kelly said.
Members of the Columbia and Towson encores typically perform together, with Anne Arundel Community College’s Encore group joining them. Members of all 21 Encore Chorales are encouraged to participate in the Encore Concert at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Millennium Stage, in Washington, D.C., which this year is slated for Dec. 22.
“It’s a great experience to be able to sing at the Kennedy Center, which we’ve done,” said Tom Kowalski, of Catonsville. “The group is professional. If you want to sing, this is the place to be.”
While the fall session ends with the holiday concerts, the winter session ends with a series of concerts featuring songs from the Great American songbook and musicals. There are also summer overnight camps offered and a rock-and-roll Chorale Ensemble is also an option.
“These 55-plus singers want to keep voices fresh,” Kelly said. “They want to learn. They want to keep singing.”
The 15-week sessions for the Columbia and Towson groups cost each participant $175, with all sheet music and the CD included in the cost. The fee helps cover insurance costs, concert venue space and music, Kelly said.
As chorale master for Columbia, Anne Ball, of Silver Spring, handles a variety of duties for the group, including paper work, cancellation alerts, etc. Originally part of an Encore Chorale group in Silver Spring, Ball joined the Columbia group right at the beginning.
“I always wanted to be part of a new thing. The start-up,” Ball said. “These people are wonderful.”
As chorale master of Towson, Layton is able to attend rehearsals with the Columbia group. She takes notes for Harouff about the music and is quick to boast about both groups.
“Our sound is tremendous. The two of us [Columbia and Towson] are the best.”
A free holiday concert featuring Encore Chorales of Towson, Columbia and members of Anne Arundel Community College, as well as Annapolis Rocks and Towson Rocks, is scheduled for Dec. 9, at 7 p.m., at Towson Presbyterian Church, 400 W. Chesapeake Ave., Towson.
A free holiday concert featuring Encore Chorales of Towson, Columbia and members of Anne Arundel Community College will be held Dec. 10, at 7 p.m., at the Owen Brown Interfaith Center, 7246 Cradlerock Way, in Columbia. Go to encorecreativity.org