Members of the Encore Chorale of Columbia gathered for a weekly rehearsal at the Owen Brown Interfaith Center in Columbia last month, wearing face masks, to rehearse selections for their holiday concert in December.
The chorale consists of 43 members who are 55 years of age and older.
Part of Encore Creativity for Older Adults, the nation’s largest choral organization for older adults, the Columbia group is one of nine chorales in Maryland. Annapolis, Baltimore, Brooklyn Park, Frederick, Gaithersburg, Glen Echo Park, Lusby and Silver Spring are the others.
The nonprofit organization launched in 2007 has provided an accessible artistic environment for older adults regardless of their ability or experience, according to its website.
During the past decade and a half, the organization has held concerts across the nation and world, including at the Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda, on the Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. and at the Rouen Cathedral in Normandy, France.
Joshua Vickery, chief executive officer of Encore Creativity for Older Adults, said the organization selects music that is fitting for older adults, trains its conductors to work with the older adult voice and uses venues accessible for those with disabilities.
Vickery said singing benefits older adults emotionally, mentally and physically.
“As you’re singing, your whole body’s involved so there’s physical exercise in singing, there’s mental stimulation in learning the music and memorizing the words [and] there’s social connections in being a part of a community,” he said.
Stephen Harouff has served as Encore Chorale of Columbia conductor for seven years. Starting with 14 singers, he said the chorale grew to 73 singers by March 2020. As the pandemic took hold, numbers have dwindled.
“The pandemic has affected every choral organization and so we’re back to a bit of a rebuilding process at the moment,” he said.
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This fall the Columbia chorale is rehearsing holiday selections including, “Hallelujah Chorus,” from Handel’s “Messiah”; “The Holly and the Ivy,” a traditional folk British Christmas song; “Ose Shalom,” a prayer for peace sung in celebration of Hanukkah; “Ring Out, Ye Bells” and “Sleigh Ride,” both traditional Christmas carols.
Steve Von Hagen-Jamar and his wife, Shelley, of Columbia, have been a part of Encore Chorale of Columbia for five years.
Steve, 69, said participating in the group has strengthened his breathing and voice and has helped he and Shelley make friends.
“I’m an introvert, but [the chorale] gets me out of the house and we’ve got a couple of friends from the chorale now,” he said.
Shelley, 71, said she is excited to rehearse for the upcoming holiday season.
“I’m looking forward to learning the rest of the music and doing the holiday concert that we do in Columbia,” she said.
Encore Chorale of Columbia will perform its annual holiday concert at the Owen Brown Interfaith Center, 7246 Cradlerock Way, Columbia at 4 p.m., Dec. 11. Reserve a seat with free tickets at encorecreativity.org.