After losing her home in a fire two years ago, Ellicott City resident Sharon Koenig needed something positive in her life. A singer for more than 60 years, Koenig discovered Encore Chorale. For the soprano, the group has delivered joy and more.
“Music is healing,” Koenig said. “Things like this really helped me go through that process and start feeling good again.”
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 located in the Baltimore Washington area that meet in 15-week sessions that end with a series of concerts.
“As the voice ages, changes take place,” said Jeanne Kelly, Encore 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 upcoming performances on Dec. 9 and 10. He good-naturedly teased them about still needing their music and coached various sections from the tenors to the 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?” Harouff said, who has been the conductor of the Towson Encore Chorale since September 2014 and helped start Columbia’s chorale two years ago.
“They’re fantastic,” Harouff said, of his singers. “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.”
“Stephen is so patient with us,” said Joan Kammerer, of Ellicott City. “He brings the best out of us.”
Each of the individual 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. All members are encouraged to participate in the Encore concert at Kennedy Center Music Hall, this year on 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. They want to learn. They want to keep singing,” Kelly said.
The 15-week sessions for both Columbia and Towson cost $175 each, 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 Columbia group, including paper work, cancellation alerts, and other tasks. 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.”
“I’ve been doing this for 10 years,” said Esther Layton, chorale master of Towson, who was attending Columbia’s rehearsal. “I just love it. Our sound is tremendous. The two of us [Columbia and Towson] are the best.”
A free holiday concert featuring Encore Chorales of Towson and Columbia and members of the Anne Arundel Community College chorale, as well as Annapolis Rocks and Towson Rocks, will be held Saturday, Dec. 9 at 7 p.m. at Towson Presbyterian Church, 400 West Chesapeake Ave., Towson.
A free holiday concert featuring the Encore Chorales of Towson and Columbia and members of Anne Arundel Community College chorale will be held Sunday, Dec. 10 at 7 p.m. at Owen Brown Interfaith Center, 7246 Cradlerock Way, Columbia. Go to encorecreativity.org.