In our series finale on the importance of staying mentally active as we age, we are highlighting American House Senior Living Communities. In their retirement communities, they have a resident-centered activity program developed around a wellness model that addresses the physical, intellectual, social, vocational, emotional and spiritual well-being of a resident. And one of these activities is choir program that fills its communities with song.
Many senior living communities have sing-alongs as a regularly scheduled activity, yet at American House Senior Living Communities, it’s a formal choir that help keeps residents happy, healthy and active. The American House Choir is a large choral ensemble designed around the concept that singing in one’s golden years promotes emotional, physical and mental vitality. Residents involved in the choir, enjoy improved emotional well-being and foster their creativity through socialization, song preparation and performing.
“The advantage of a wellness program like our choir is it helps to provide a higher quality of life for residents which keeps them engaged in the community, giving them a sense of purpose,” said Rob Gillette, chief operating officer for American House Senior Living Communities. “Studies on music and its relation to aging adults have demonstrated notable psychological benefits including better social interaction, encouraged self-expression and improved interest levels.”
The residents are so good that the choir draws scores of audience members for local concerts at both American House activities and public events. Very few of these residents have formal choir experience, or even musical experience, but audiences are always impressed with their level of skill and talent. The choir’s music director, Daniel Grieg, who is also a pianist for the Michigan Opera Theater Program, said he’s proud of the residents and how much they’ve grown. “Our residents thoroughly enjoy their participation in our choir program and are eager to share with others the joy they experience when they sing. They are able to express themselves through music, and also have a chance to reflect on their lives and even tell stories about songs they remember from their youth.”
The community-wide choir was the inspiration of Angie Kadowaki, corporate life enrichment director for American House. Kadowaki described the choir as having come together after repeated requests from residents for a formal singing activity at several American House communities. “I was so inspired by the resident’s enthusiasm I knew I had to make this happen. That’s when I reached out to Dan and now the choir is nearly 100-members strong.”
For public events, a portion or the entire choir may perform. The choir performs throughout the metro-Detroit area, and one of their performances included opening for the United States Navy Band. Their repertoire is familiar standards from the 30s, 40s and 50s, like “Moon River” and “Over the Rainbow,” but their songbook also includes patriotic songs.
An offshoot of the main choir program is the Lady Liberty Chorus that features a 12-woman chorus. The chorus has an average age of 86, and these women usually perform at patriotic activities throughout southeast Michigan. Keeping with their namesake, the women dress as Lady Liberty and are very proud to be participating in the choir.
In addition to the choir, other musical activities are also incorporated into American House’s programming. American House has a partnership with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra where its musicians perform for residents at their communities among other events. One of the recent highlights was a special concert presented by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Thirty buses brought over 850 residents to attend the performance at Orchestra Hall in Detroit. During the performance, when John Phillip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” was to be played, DSO conductor, Leonard Slatkin invited American House resident and WWII veteran, Sam Blaga, on stage to conduct.
These types of special activities are just one part of American House’s efforts to keep their residents loving life. “One thing we pride ourselves on is having a rich activity program for our residents,” Kadowaki explained. At each community there are on average six to eight different activities throughout the day that residents can choose from. She says that their program is really resident centered and they make sure there is something for everyone.
For most families, when they tour a community, they are afraid their loved one won’t want to socialize, so a community’s activity program is a selling point,” Kadowaki said. While participating in the choir is one of the ways that seniors can stay mentally active, the participation also provides the socializing benefit. “It’s something for the residents to belong too, the bigger the choir the better for the resident. It’s a confidence booster and a way for the residents to get to know each other,” she adds.
With the nearly 100 residents scattered across three counties, Grieg arranges practices at each county level, coordinating with the community’s life enrichment directors to arrange for transportation to the different American House communities. Kadowaki said that by having the practices at different communities, residents can make new friends and look forward to visiting other communities.
And one of the reasons that residents may join the choir is because of peer pressure, albeit the good kind. "When residents see other residents participating, they think, ‘I can do that too,’” Kadowaki said.
Additional material and photographs provided by Alicia M. Woods, Sr. Marketing Communications Manager, American House Senior Living Communities