Portland-area choir entertains and seeks to educate elderly

by: DREW DAKESSIAN - Members of The Conchords Chorale rehearse Christmas carols to be performed at Alpenrose Dairy's Christmas in Dairyville celebration this month.Some things really do get better with age.

So it is The Conchords Chorale, a community choir made up of mostly middle-aged and elderly singers.

After graduating from Wilson High School in 1969, choral director Don Anderson went on to sing with the Portland Opera, the Portland Symphonic Choir, the Oregon Symphony and the New York City Symphony.

“I’ve been exposed to some really great stuff,” Anderson says, “and what I’ve learned is music is not just for a certain age group; it’s for everyone. Singing is for everyone.”

This is the philosophy that brings The Conchords together every Wednesday evening to hone their craft and rehearse a repertoire of standards ranging from classical, to country, to contemporary.

Now, six years after Anderson came on as director, The Conchords are really starting to hit their stride.

“Generally speaking, singers don’t even come into their own until they’re 40,” Anderson says.

True, human vocal folds do not fully develop until around middle age, but more importantly, says Anderson, “It takes time, history and dedication to gain the skills to be able to transition from one genre to another of music.”

He adds: “Now, they not only learn the notes, words, rhythm, but they learn how to sing it artistically correct.”

The Conchords themselves are not the only ones who have benefited from the group. They regularly perform at senior centers throughout Southwest Portland.

“Before we start, there’s dead silence. It’s like they’re just sitting there,” Anderson says. “By the time we’re done with the sing-along and the performance, they’re talking and going on and remember stuff.

“Our mission,” he says, “is to reach out to seniors artistically, educationally and for better quality of life mentally, because we know music cross-references the brain.”

With the help of fellow Wilson alumnus Vince Arditi, the former recreation coordinator with Portland Parks & Recreation, Anderson is hoping to start giving The Conchords the chance not just to sing to senior citizens, but to interact with them directly and ultimately empower them to sing themselves.

“What I saw, where he’s going, and where I’m going to try to steer him and the group…into recreation as a performing art that people can actually do. If I can’t get up, I can still sing,” Arditi DREW DAKESSIAN - Don Anderson conducts a rehearsal of The Conchords Chorale.

Arditi and Anderson were in the same homeroom class throughout their time at Wilson, but it was not until their 40-year high school reunion that Arditi and Anderson became friends.

“Vince and I in high school, we knew each other, we probably talked, but we weren’t really buddies [until the reunion],” Anderson says. “After our show in 2012, Vince comes up to us and says, Loved your show, what can I do to help you guys out?”

The rest, as they say, is history.

“It has brought us back together. Vince has huge expertise in areas that Conchords … as far as certain areas, we just don’t have the expertise as Vince,” Anderson says.

Arditi is similarly appreciative of both Anderson and The Conchords.

“These singers, they’re not the Mormon Tabernacle Choir,” he says, “but the point is they’re happy with what they do.”

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