When we established Encore five years ago (my how time flies!), we chose the name "Encore Creativity for Older Adults" with a vision that we would offer a variety of creative arts programs. While our focus has been on Chorales, we have, through our summer institute programs, also offered theatre and dance and, this summer, will have a band program at St. Mary's College of Maryland. Meanwhile, many of our members find other outlets for their creativity. Case in point is that below "creative writing project" I received from Al Rosin, a Smithsonian Chorale member. He wrote this for a Creative Writing Class he was taking - it made my day!
'My Favorite Person'
The Smithsonian Associates Magazine arrived in our mailbox in either March or April three years ago. The ad I zeroed in on featured the headline “If you can talk you can sing.” Well I can talk and I always wanted to sing but I really can’t carry a tune in a bucket and I can’t read music.
The class description goes on to describe the class as 15 weeks of rehearsals, Wednesday each week from 10:30 to noon, in the Ripley Center on the Mall. After the 15 weeks the entire chorale will get to sing in a concert in one or more venues in the Washington area.
The Kennedy Center is mentioned which gives my delusional mind the picture of me, yes me, bucket in hand, standing next to Placido on stage at the Kennedy Center. OK, always dream big my mother told me.
I call the phone number to register, give them my name, age and credit card number and sign up--there’s no audition, no test to pass. I’m in.
Included in the ad with a brief portion of her incredible Bio is a picture of the lady that will lead the Chorale and play the 4 part music of the program on the piano,. She has a beautiful smile, below a dazzling shock of white hair.
When I finally meet her in person at our first rehearsal I learn that the white hair gives me no clue to her age. Her manner is very soft but very “I’m in charge”. In my 3 years in the chorale I’ve observed that she never individually criticizes anyone. She might say “one of the baritones isn’t keeping time with the rest, or is singing in a lower tone than the others. “Try to get up there with everyone else.” I’m a baritone and I’m sure she’s talking to me personally, but when I speak with the other baritones they all feel the same way--and we all work hard to “get up there” as Jeanne asks. For everyone I speak to in the chorale they each say unanimously that the music is great, the opportunity to perform is exhilarating but without Jeanne it wouldn’t be anywhere near as much fun.
So what’s her name already. I hear you asking. You won’t forget her name and she just might become your favorite person too. You should figure out her name quickly and remember it. Show don’t tell.
He’s tappin' and splashin' thru puddles. He’s on and off the curb and splashin'. He’s swingin' round the light poles.
He has an umbrella when he starts dancin' and singin' in the rain, but he gives it to the cop on the beat.
I’m sure you get it.
I bet you all know and you’re right, her name with a little different spelling--Jeanne Kelly ‘Jeanne’ still pronounced Gene--last name Kelly the same 5 letters you expected.
OK, what makes Jeanne Kelly so very special--Where, when, why, how did she become my favorite person.
Jeanne includes on her resume being a featured operatic singer, an accomplished pianist, the Director of the US Navy Women’s Choir and many more significant leadership roles.
Being always interested in numbers, My guess is that there’ll be 40 to 50 people in my first class so I won’t stand out in too small a group.
There are almost 100 people there for the first rehearsal and they’re there ‘every week thereafter. “I hate to miss a week of rehearsal” is the common theme among the group.
She selects the music that we perform by herself. Fall semester through Christmas we do winter, Christmas and Hanukah selections. Winter into spring she selects popular music, which is just great fun.
Winter/spring 2009 we did a 16 song medley by Irving Berlin, including God Bless America with the brilliant, poignant, very emotional lead in of
“Give me you’re tired your poor
Your huddled masses longing to be free”
and on and on those magical words flow almost seamlessly into God Bless America.
Jeanne comments to us that the second soprano’s are not keeping the proper beat for the music. One woman raises her hand to respond and says words that are jumbled in her tears about her Mother and Father coming to the US. Wiping a tear from her own eye, Jeanne says, you’re right, those words deserve a rest at that point and we’ll add it to our music. Mr Berlin will pardon us. She is a class act.
The year before we did a medley of Lerner and Loewe including My Fair Lady, Camelot and Paint your Wagon. Nobody entered or left without a smile. The men, during a man talk session said “Damn Damn damn We’ve grown accustomed to her face.” She just makes us better.
And for our finale that year she selects “When I’m 64” by the Beatles. One man the thought that we might add a little fun to our performance if each of us wore a Beatles wig. Jeanne just loved the idea and wore a Beatles wig herself. The audience laughed and sang along making it a very rousing finale for our concert. She added a separate closing for each 10 years, 64, 74, 84 and the one gentleman who just turned 94.
There are about 125 in the Smithsonian Chorale this year at the Ripley Center, and Jeanne has ten other Chorales in other parts of the Washington/ Baltimore area. She has concerts at sea on large cruise ships and concerts in other venues.
Our Fall/Winter Concerts start on Wednesday in The American Indian Museum at 1:30 and the Friendship Heights Village Center at 7:30 that same day.
Many of us have already paid for the Winter/Spring session that starts in late January so we don’t get shut out. She tells us over and over, “When you don’t know the words or the music--close your music and Just Watch Jeanne.”
I hope that one more series of Classes with Jeanne and I’ll be able to throw away my bucket. I’m sure there’s so much more to tell about Jeanne Kelly, but right now she is absolutely my favorite person.