A Chorus Of Alzheimer's Patients Sings Through The Shutdown On Zoom The Fairfax-based Sentimental Journey Singers brings together people with memory struggles to sing "music of their era."
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A Chorus Of Alzheimer's Patients Sings Through The Shutdown On Zoom

A Chorus Of Alzheimer's Patients Sings Through The Shutdown On Zoom

A Chorus Of Alzheimer's Patients Sings Through The Shutdown On Zoom

A Chorus Of Alzheimer's Patients Sings Through The Shutdown On Zoom

A photo illustration and compilation of images from the choir's Zoom rehearsal. Mikaela Lefrak and Ruth Tam/WAMU hide caption

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Mikaela Lefrak and Ruth Tam/WAMU

Mary Ann East is the first to log on to her Zoom meeting. She's the conductor of the Fairfax, Va.-based Sentimental Journey Singers, and her chorus is about to start their second virtual rehearsal of the coronavirus pandemic.

Smiling faces with gray hair start to pop onto the screen, Brady Bunch-style. East greets them each by name: "Hi Billy, hi Debbie!" Dottie has some trouble with her camera, but East helps her figure it out.

About a third of the singers in the 28-person chorus have early to moderate Alzheimer's disease or other memory struggles. The other members are either their caretakers or visiting singers from other groups organized by Encore Creative for Older Adults, a nonprofit that develops community choirs for people 55 and older. The average age of Encore singers is 72, putting them at high risk for contracting the coronavirus.

"We know that we have many singers who live alone, and our efforts to engage our singers during this difficult time will also help to combat isolation," Kelly said.

Once everyone is assembled, East starts the rehearsal with some vocal warmups, then launches into the Gershwin song "'S Wonderful" on her piano. The Encore groups sing a lot of classic rock 'n' roll, traditional choral music and show tunes — "music of their era," as she puts it.

Everyone is on mute so they can hear the directions and musical accompaniment. All told, it goes pretty smoothly, except for the occasional tech issue.

The Sentimental Journey Singers perform prior to the coronavirus shutdown. E. David Luria Photography/Encore hide caption

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E. David Luria Photography/Encore

Sentimental Journey was founded last year after Encore's founder and artistic director Jeanne Kelly noticed that a number of singers were dropping out of the program and not returning. Exit interviews revealed that many of them felt they couldn't keep up with rehearsals as they got older — things were just moving too fast, and the music was too complex.

The new group started meeting weekly at Insight Memory Care Center, an adult care facility in Fairfax. After the pandemic is over, Kelly plans to start a second group for people with Alzheimer's in Rockville, Md.

East can't wait to get back to in-person rehearsals with her singers one day, but for now, she's glad that they can see familiar faces on Zoom. She hopes the rehearsals remind them that there are other people out there singing the same tune.

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