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Choir for seniors continues to grow

Founder of parent organization makes special appearance

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As a kid, Jamie Howell often caught her mom and dad singing around the house. She picked up the hobby and hasn't stopped since.

Howell moved to Highlands Ranch four years ago and lives in a retirement community. She was having a difficult time finding a choir group that met during the day. Then she found Highlands Ranch Encore Chorale, a non-audition choir group for anyone 55 and older.

“I still have a voice at 92,” said Howell. “Which is miraculous — it's a blessing.”

Howell is one of more than 80 seniors who meet at Southridge Recreation Center on Friday mornings for an hour-long choir rehearsal. They warm up by breathing and swaying their arms. Brian Leatherman, an enthusiastic conductor and the founder, leads the group from the stage. Co-founder Cindy Runkel sits at a piano below.

After rehearsal, several members grab lunch at a nearby restaurant.

“The people love the social benefits,” said Runkle.

The group is an affiliate of Encore Creativity for Older Adults, founded in Washington D.C. in 2007 by Jeanne Kelly, a former opera singer. Kelly saw the need for such an organization when her parents moved into a retirement community.

“I was appalled at the music being offered,” said Kelly, who made a special appearance at Southridge on March 2, where she mingled with local singers. “As the voice ages, it changes. But that doesn't mean you don't go on singing.”

Kelly helped lead a three-year study at George Washington University that observed the overall health of 150 individuals ages 55 and older participating in professionally led choral groups. Results indicated fewer trips to the doctor's office and hospital, reduced depression, reduced medication use and better breathing, among other benefits.

Kelly's organization has grown to 1,800 singers in 21 choirs across Maryland, Washington D.C. and Virginia, with affiliate groups in Colorado, Ohio, Chicago and Pennsylvania.

Highlands Ranch Encore Chorale formed in 2015. Six months later, in response to requests for another location, South Suburban Parks and Recreation organized a Littleton group, which meets Mondays at Buck Community Recreation Center, 2004 W Powers Ave. In two years, it has grown to more than 90 people.

Both groups have a spring and fall session, which culminate in a performance for friends and family.

“Truly, it's one of my favorite things that we do,” said Nikki Crouse, active adult program manager at South Suburban. The group engages, supports, encourages and empowers its members, she said.

Members say the groups offer a sense of community and a social outlet that many might not have otherwise. Reasons for joining are mixed. Some members, like Howell, have been singing for decades. Others, like couple Dan and Julie Meyer, joined for fun.

“We've made more friends in this group than any other place,” said Julie Meyer, 65.

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