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The Magic of Song

Jeanne Kelly’s Encore Chorale proves music can reverse aging

Silence falls. All eyes are focused on Jeanne Kelly. At her signal, the Encore Chorale bursts into song. Senior citizens one and all, the singers are primed, vibrant and ready for adventure.
    “Is that your best?” Kelly asks. “Can you give me more excitement?” Of course they can, and they do; Jeanne Kelly brings out the best in every singer.
    But is it true what she says? Can performance singing truly slow down the aging process?
    Let’s examine this further. By the late 1990s, Pennsylvania-born Kelly, who’d started as an opera singer, was working as a conductor, teacher and music administrator at the Levine School of Music in Arlington, Virginia. In 2001, her chorale for senior adults caught the eye of George Washington University gerontologist Dr. Gene Cohen. He asked Kelly to run the music portion of a three-year study on creativity and aging, designed to assess how involvement in the creative arts affects health and wellbeing in senior adults.
    For the sake of the study, Kelly quickly created two more senior chorales in Northern Virginia. The three groups practiced weekly, each learning the same music at the same time. For performances, they joined together in a large chorale. The average age of the subjects? Roughly 80 years.
    The findings of the creativity and aging study were irrefutable. Even one year after its start, Kelly’s chorale members were suffering less depression, having fewer falls, taking less medication and making fewer doctors’ visits.
    Not surprisingly, these findings captured worldwide attention. They also motivated Kelly to build on the foundation she’d laid.
    “I wanted to give seniors the chance to return to singing,” she says, “to continue a lifelong passion or to try something new.” Creation of a chorale for older adults seemed the logical next step.
    In 2007, Kelly left Levine to form Encore Creativity for Older Adults, a nonprofit organization offering adults ages 55 and older, regardless of experience or ability, study with a music professional and performance in a chorale.
    Ten years later, under Kelly’s leadership, Churchton-based Encore is now America’s largest and fastest growing chorale for senior adults. It has expanded into 15 chorales plus five Encore Rocks rock ’n’ roll choruses in the Washington, D.C., and Baltimore areas, with more than 1,000 singers. There are also affiliated sites across the country.

Under Jeanne Kelly’s leadership, Churchton-based Encore Creativity for Older Adults is America’s largest and fastest growing chorale for senior adults.

    Fall and spring, Encore offers 15-week training sessions under the direction of professional conductors, Kelly included. Each session ends with a free public concert.
    Celebrating its 10th anniversary, 800 Encore singers perform at the Daughters of the Revolution Constitution Hall, a huge deal for performers everywhere. An audience of more than 3,000 is expected at that May 13 concert.
    The Encore Board has also established the Jeanne Kelly Founder’s Fund, with a goal of keeping Encore forever vibrant and strong.
    Kelly, now 67 and living in Annapolis, delights in Encore’s success. “We have performed at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and at the White House Conference on Aging. We do summer camps and travel tours; we’ve even sung aboard the Queen Mary II during high tea.”
    “I love watching people find their voices,” Kelly says. “I often remind them of Dr. Cohen’s mantra: If not now, when?”


Join, listen, find practice and performance locations and more: www.encorecreativity.org, 301-261-5747.