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Towson Encore Chorale tunes up for summer program online

Stephen Harouff conducts the Towson and Columbia Encore chorales in the 2019 holiday concert at the Wilde Lake Interfaith Center in Columbia.
Stephen Harouff conducts the Towson and Columbia Encore chorales in the 2019 holiday concert at the Wilde Lake Interfaith Center in Columbia. (E. David Luria Photography)

Joyce Keating, a continuing member of the Towson Encore Chorale, is looking forward to Encore’s summer program, which is held online over six weeks.

The 76-year-old Pikesville resident, who joined Encore in 2008 after she learned about it from a friend, isn’t sure which courses among the 20 being offered she will take, but she is particularly fond of and curious about female composers.

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“I am interested in recording them and learning more about them,” Keating said.

Annapolis-based Encore Creativity for Older Adults, a choral program for adults 55 and older, is accepting registrations through July 3 for Encore University Summer School. Among the courses being offered are “Music Theory,” “Vocal Technique,” “The History of Motown,” and “Christmas in July/August.” The courses run July 6 through Aug. 13.

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Stephen Harouff, conductor of the Towson Encore Chorale and the Columbia Encore Chorale, is one of the conductors who will be teaching courses during the summer program.

Since he joined Encore in 2014, Towson Encore Chorale, which had 63 members in the spring, has held its performances and weekly rehearsals at Towson Presbyterian Church, however, since the pandemic, the group has not been able to perform.

Adults interested in joining the chorale must pay a tuition fee, however, are not required to audition or have prior experience.

This summer, Harouff will be teaching “Christmas in July” and “Christmas in August,” where he will instruct singers on “COVID Carols,” or humorous and witty songs about the woes of COVID-19 set to the tune of holiday carols.

The idea for the course came about after The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada started collecting submissions for COVID Carols to lift spirits during the pandemic.

Harouff said the aim of the course is for singers to have fun. “I hope [the course] lightens their mood and brings brightness into their day,” he said.

He said it is important for the singers to be able to connect with one another, especially during this time.

“Many of the singers live alone and are widows or widowers and cannot see their children or grandchildren because of social distancing,” Harouff said. “Keeping the socialization going and keeping them engaged is incredibly valuable.”

Jeanne Kelly, artistic director and founder of Encore, knew the program needed to transition online after learning of two chorale members who died after contracting the coronavirus during a rehearsal in Mount Vernon, Washington in March.

That choir, much like the choirs she conducts, consists primarily of older adults who are at higher risk for developing serious complications from the illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Aware of the dangers of continuing rehearsals in person, she reworked her courses, finishing out the spring semester online.

Kelly, who will be teaching “Sing with Jeanne” and “Vocal Technique,” said she and the staff had to make major adjustments to be able to teach online.

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“It was a learning experience for sure,” she said. “[We had to work] to get everybody up to speed [who] were not as computer savvy.”

To teach her courses, Kelly uses Zoom, a software platform used for teleconferencing in which she and all her singers can see each other on their screens. Although it is useful to be able to see her singers simultaneously, she said it is difficult for multiple voices to blend online like they would in person.

Despite the challenges, she said some of her singers have described the program as the highlight of their time in quarantine.

So far, 750 singers from around the world have registered for the summer program, she said.

Although Keating, of the Towson Encore Chorale, misses singing with her choir in person, she said still being able to sing has brought her a sense of joy.

“When you focus on the music, you don’t think of anything that bothers you,” she said. “Those of us who sing know how much it adds to our life — not only socially, but it lifts your spirit.”

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