By Ed Karvoski Jr., Culture Editor
South Shore – South Shore Conservatory (SSC) states on its website: “Aging creatively through the arts allows us to enjoy and embrace the process. SSC’s adult learning initiative offers a full range of arts experiences – concerts, group classes, private lessons and performance opportunities – designed to challenge adult minds, stimulate creativity and build vibrant social connections.”
SSC is a nonprofit organization with campuses in Duxbury, Hanover and Hingham. Among its offerings is Golden Voices for adults at least age 55 with varying singing skills. Some students have musical experience while others are venturing into a new achievement on their bucket list. The class is led by Emily Browder Melville, SSC’s voice department chair.
“Singing and other arts allow for playfulness that we need no matter what age,” she said. “Various responsibilities take over as we age. We can easily relegate creative things we used to do to something for which we don’t have time. With Golden Voices, we tap into these youthful qualities in ourselves.”
Golden Voices students learn a repertoire of songs in three-part harmony including a cappella, jazz swing, gospel and Broadway show tunes. It’s a small ensemble typically consisting of seven to nine singers.
“It’s rewarding when the music becomes bigger than the sum of its parts, when we feel really comfortable with a song and get to be joyous,” Browder Melville noted. “They all love that feeling of connection with other people through harmonizing the music. We’ve been together about seven years, and the majority of them have been with us since the beginning. There are real friendships and a strong social factor.”
Each semester of Golden Voices concludes with a performance at a local nursing home. Browder Melville believes these performances are both entertaining and beneficial for the residents.
“It’s particularly poignant for residents with memory impairment,” she relayed. “You see them come into the present moment. Their memory is stimulated when they hear songs that they know. They’re apt to sing along and get a lot of joy out of it. Singing is fun and feels good. The more you sing, the better you feel.”
Another SSC class helps singers who want to focus on a solo repertoire. The class called American Songbook is taught by Dianne Legro.
“The American Songbook is a lasting collection of songs, mainly by men and women who wrote for Broadway and Hollywood from the 1920’s to the 1960’s – some earlier songs qualify,” she explained. “Songwriters like Cole Porter, George and Ira Gershwin, and others crafted pieces that stand the test of time. They knew traditional song forms and used careful lyric writing.”
Students are encouraged to choose timeless songs that they’d like to perform. Legro teaches them how to incorporate backstory to uniquely interpret songs for a compelling performance.
“They enjoy coming into class with a song that was difficult for them to sing, and then after two or three classes they’re breezing through it,” she said. “It’s a revelation to them that this is possible. When they trust me enough to explore something and it works, it’s a benefit to us both. I’m as happy and moved as they are.”
The most valuable lesson that Legro hopes her students learn is that it’s never too late to study and perform music.
“You can sing and share what you know with the world from your depth of experience,” she said. “Sometimes we’re so rich internally that even if it’s not vocally perfect, it’s a moving artistic gift when you tell your story to an audience.”