The Joy of Singing
Seniors Embrace Life in the Greater Reading Encore Chorale
Can performance singing and other intensive creative activities slow down the aging process?
“There is no question in my mind, and there has always been plenty of anecdotal evidence,” says Dr. Louise Hauer Greenberg, a scientist and singer. “Now there is scientific research to support it.”
Greenberg, who holds a Ph.D. in biochemistry and neuropharmacology, founded the Greater Reading Encore Chorale (GREC) in 2012. The GREC is a performance singing group for adults age 55 and older.
The results of “The Creativity and Aging Study” inspired her to create the GREC. Greenberg heard about the study while attending a Chorus America annual conference.
This research, supported by the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Institutes of Health, studied seniors involved in challenging art programs led by professionals, as well as a control group of seniors who were not engaged in the arts.
The two groups were in similar health at the start of the study. However, after two years, the seniors engaged in intensive art programs visited doctors less often, took fewer prescription medicines, fell less, suffered less depression, and reported better overall health than those in the control group. They also had improved stamina, breathing, speaking and singing voices.
This research, her scientific background, and her lifelong love of singing struck a chord in Greenberg. She founded the GREC, a partner of Berks Encore, which serves senior citizens in Berks. The GREC is also affiliated with Encore Creativity for Older Adults, a nonprofit organization that is the nation’s largest and fastest growing choral program for older adults.
In its inaugural season, 28 singers practiced weekly under the guidance of Music Director David Rutt. Practices included intense work on proper breathing techniques, improvement of the voice through correct tone production, and learning challenging four-part music, including patriotic and Broadway songs and spirituals. The group performed its first program, Americana, at Alsace Lutheran Church, Reading, and wowed a large and enthusiastic audience.
In its second season, the GREC is hoping to attract new members who have a background in singing. The group will perform holiday concerts featuring secular choral music. Their spring concerts will include music from the American Songbook, Broadway, operetta and opera, as well as spirituals and folk songs. Singers from the GREC will be invited to join other Encore Chorales in holiday concerts in Baltimore and Washington, DC.
A native of Berks County and a graduate of Mount Penn High School, Greenberg spent most of her life in the Philadelphia area. She sang in The Mendelssohn Club, the Philadelphia Singers Chorale and The Choral Arts Society, which she also founded. Four years ago, Greenberg returned to her Berks roots. She now lives in The Heritage of Green Hills, a vibrant senior community where residents embrace multiple physical and artistic activities.
“In my scientific career, I spent a number of years at The Medical College of PA, now Drexel Medical School, conducting research in the field of gerontology, discovering various chemical changes that occur in the aging brain,” says Greenberg. “I am very excited by the prospect of combining my two careers, gerontology and singing. I hope I not only can slow down my aging process by continuing to sing, but also slow down that process in other older adults by engaging them in singing in the GREC. My goal is to improve the quality of life of senior citizens in this area and further enrich the musical life of Berks County.”
Susan Leinbach, 66, of Mount Penn, says singing in the GREC brings a lot of joy to her life. “I love to sing,” says Leinbach. “I sang when I was a student in Reading High School and I am a soloist at Zion Spies Church, Reading. It makes me feel good to sing and I like to watch the faces of the people in the audience, because it makes them feel good, too.”
Greenberg points out that “The Creativity and Aging Study” examines art programs for seniors that are directed by a professional artist. The intensity and challenge of the experience is crucial. Music Director David Rutt provides that challenge to the GREC members.
“My peers and I have observed that older people who stay active, especially by singing, remain healthier and have greater mental awareness than those who are more sedentary,” says Rutt. “It is awesome that a formal study of the health benefits of singing confirms what I and other choral conductors have been observing.”