Nothing brings out the sparkle in people, whether they are 9 or 90, like singing old favorite songs. At the New Dominion Chorale, we have decided to spread our joy in singing by performing at senior residences and nursing homes in Northern Virginia, and we're always overwhelmed by the warmth of our reception. As Lorraine Redman, Resident Services Coordinator, The Lewinsville, put it, "Everyone enjoys the reminiscing through songs of the past - they just don't write good songs like that any more."
The idea came to us while Christmas caroling at a nursing home - a time when the elderly get almost a surfeit of volunteers. One resident remarked that she wished that singers would come back the rest of the year. And why not, we thought. So, we organized a program called "Just a Song at Twilight", a reference to the songs families used to sing many years ago around the piano at the end of the day.
We bring along a pianist, a gaggle of singers, and printouts of the words to the first verse of each song. The goal is to get the residents to join in the singing, which is not hard to do when we launch into favorites like "Annie Laurie", or "Bye, Bye Blackbird". Then we perform the next verse a cappella because of the beauty of four-part harmony. Lately we've added medleys of popular music organized around a theme: Love Songs, Fifties Music, Autumn, Italian Favorites, and Irish Tunes, etc., which are always very well received.
Another popular feature is chorus member Sam Corl and his banjo: he always sings a solo or two from his own extensive repertoire. It's all very informal, with the singers and the residents chatting and joking with each other. The idea is to make the evening seem more like a visit with the guest singers rather than attending a set performance. Bob Fielden, Vinson Hall resident, tells us, "We look forward each year to the return of the New Dominion Chorale; they are always such fine entertainment and so many residents appreciate their music. It's obvious that you enjoy what you're doing, and when you enjoy something, you do it well."
It's hard to say who gets more enjoyment from these evenings, the singers or the audience. Several NDC regulars who seldom miss a sing-along dash in from their 60-hour-a-week jobs in DC. Iris Knell, Outreach Coordinator, says, "My favorite audience comment is: 'You all seem to like each other so much!'"