Still Hopes retirement community is partnering with the University of South Carolina School of Music to give the residents a chance to sing, and a hand-picked doctoral student the opportunity to educate and inspire a generation.
The Still Hopes Singers choir has been a recreational outlet for residents at Still Hopes for years, however, COVID took away this opportunity. They resumed in the past few months and reached out to the USC School of Music to find the perfect choir director.
Second-year doctoral student Kevin Crowe wanted to continue his passion for music in elder communities and has begun the role of Choir Director, seeing the program begin to flourish.
“In Colorado, I directed specifically for seniors and elders in the LGBTQ community, it really made me realize the importance of honoring people who have been in the arts for their entire lives,” said Crowe. “Not only that but providing an outlet to keep people singing for their entire lives.”
Still Hopes has multiple restaurants and opportunities for recreation. There are multiple on-site salons, rehabilitation and memory care wings, a wellness center, and both independent and dependent living areas. However, it became isolating when COVID struck, and most opportunities were stripped from them. Particularly for the musicians, music shut down for so long. When the idea of restarting Still Hopes Singers was announced, the residents were very excited to be able to get together and sing again.
The choir meets every Tuesday from 3-4 p.m. They are currently working on two individual pieces and a medley of three pieces in hopes of performing a concert in June!
“There are always unique challenges working with aging voices,” said Crowe. “People's range gets smaller; you must be more selective with the music, there are mobility and hearing issues. You must make it fun for them. But if you go into it with the mindset that you're going to accommodate for those things, it's not that bad. Just go in with a plan and it's fun. It's a great time.”
“Happy” is how the residents described themselves after choir rehearsal.
Resident Dave Sennema said they chose Kevin because they wanted someone to lead, direct and teach them, not to just come in and create a sing-along. Kevin goes through each song measure by measure and teaches them as if he was teaching anyone else how to sing in a choir. The residents will sing it through, get corrections and by the next run-through, those corrections were fixed.
It is inspiring to see this group be so passionate about what they are doing. Living their life as they would in their youth. They set aside time to be with each other and grow in their craft after not being able to since 2020. One resident said her time at rehearsal is equivalent to working out at the gym, it releases endorphins and brings her joy.
We have been working on this partnership for over a year. School of Music had the graduate students, and we had the people.
– Director of Life Engagement Michelle Rabon
Still Hopes has been around for a very long time and then the pandemic happened. During this time, Michelle and Audra Vaz, Assistant Dean for Advancement in the School of Music at USC, started talking about ways they can work together when music came back. If the residents couldn’t go to the music, she wanted to bring the music to them.
“Our singers just want to sing, they want to make joyful noise and they want to do maybe 1 or 2 concerts a year,” said Rabon.
Rabon goes out of her way to ensure the best opportunities for the residents as well as what they want to have. She decided she was going to have the members of the choir interview the candidates because she wanted someone who was going to connect with them and be what they wanted out of a director. The program is fully funded by Still Hopes.
The Still Hopes Choir sings Crowes praises, “We are in love with Kevin.” “He knows how to deal with old people and brings a little bit of youth and life to us." “He is encouraging us and is an encourager.”