Singing In Unison: Senior choir about more than just music

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During the Monday practice the members of the choir sang Let There Be Peace and L-O-V-E. (Photo by Jennifer Corr)

Members of the North Hempstead Senior Choir start their week on a high note.
On Monday afternoons, the Clinton G. Martin Community Center fills with chatter as members of the North Hempstead Senior Choir usher in for their weekly rehearsal. For the members, this is something they look forward to.

But the chatter comes to a slow halt as Eleanor Gilder plays a few notes on the piano and Ellen S. Jaffe, the music director, sits at the front of the room with her baton, signaling that it’s time to sing.

Playing the piano is Eleanor Gilder, and conducting is Ellen S. Jaffe.
(Photo by Jennifer Corr)

On March 14, the choir began their rehearsal with “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” written by Jill Jackson-Miller, followed by “L-O-V-E,” written by Bert Kaempfert and Milt Gabler. Gilder joined the choir after retiring in 2004, and she’s been playing piano since she was 8 years old. “My father was a Lutheran minister, so I had first took piano lessons and of course I had access to an organ,” Gilder said.

Jaffe said directing the group has been wonderful and therapeutic.

“They all love each other,” Jaffe, who was a music major in college, said. “They love to sing.”

Among the singers is Joe Pellegrino, the producer of the group. He joined the North Hempstead Senior Choir over 10 years ago, a time that there were about 40 members. Now the group is down to about 22 members. During the pandemic, the group saw a decline in membership.

Monday rehearsal is something the members of the North Hempstead Senior Choir look forward to. (Photo by Jennifer Corr)

But the choir stayed strong, nonetheless. Members met over Zoom, singing from behind their computer screens.

“Every week they would have six or seven people sing a song,” Pellegrino said. “We’d go with one person at a time, and they would sing a song. And it was just to keep people active and not go stir crazy.”

In-person meetings resumed last September, where members social distanced. Pellegrino said that by then the members felt comfortable with meeting, and they were happy to be back.

“Some people live alone, their spouses passed away, their children don’t live nearby, their grand-children don’t live nearby,” Pellegrino explained. “This is more of a family to them. They feel comfortable talking to each other, depending on who they are, about personal issues, medical issues and it is also [good] for their minds. It keeps them active and they get to listen to music.”

The group started in 1985, originally meeting at Eisenhower Park in East Meadow. When the Clinton G. Martin Community Center in New Hyde Park was built, the group moved there. In the large community room where the choir practices, they held a holiday concert in December where friends and family members were invited. Pellegrino is hoping the choir can go back to putting on regular shows at local libraries, senior centers and assisted living facilities as the group did in the past.

“People all enjoyed it and the singers all got satisfaction out of it,” Pellegrino said of the choir’s last concert. “It gave them more satisfaction when we started doing assisted living places, because these people are really on their own. They’re by themselves. Some of them don’t have family anymore and they enjoy listening to the music.”
The music that the choir performs ranges from show tunes to songs from The Beatles or Frank Sinatra.

Pellegrino said that any seniors who like to sing are invited to join this choir that meets at the Clinton G. Martin Community Center on Monday afternoons. Those interested in auditioning for the group should call Joe M. at 631-978-1324.

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