Yes, there's joy in their voices

HCC's Senior Choir aims to use enthusiasm to win over audience


The Howard Community College Senior Choir has only 12 members this spring, but it sang loud and strong during rehearsal at the Bain Center in Columbia.

"Trousers baggy, and our clothes look raggy, but we're rough and ready, yea!"

As the singers ran through the up-tempo song from 1925, called "Collegiate," director Rita Mayhew shouted out instructions to "listen to each other and count" and for the sopranos to try not to drown out the other sections.

When they finished, Mayhew said, "That was good. It had a lot of enthusiasm."

The amateur choir is relying on that enthusiasm to win over the audience at its first gig of the season Wednesday at Harmony Hall in Prince George's County.

"You don't need the huge numbers to make a good sound," Mayhew said. "I think the group has so much personality, I think it kind of shines through."

The senior choir began a little over a year ago and has attracted people with musical backgrounds and others who have little formal training.

Like many choirs, Mayhew said, there is an abundance of women to sing soprano. The three men in the choir sing lower parts with help from a couple of women who are comfortable in the alto and tenor range.

The choir runs on the same semester schedule as the college, and members have to register for it and pay tuition as with a college class. No audition is necessary, but members are asked to be 65 and older.

While many members enjoy the opportunity to get together and sing in rehearsals, they have shown an affinity for singing in public, Mayhew said.

"It was at [the members] urging that we go to other facilities," she said. "The first time they performed, I was actually amazed. ... They were wonderful."

The choir is scheduled to sing at the Bain Center on May 3 and at Howard Community College's Smith Theatre on May 9 with the college's main choral group and its children's choir.

Suzanna Merritt, 67, said singing for an audience last year at a Christmas concert was a fulfilling experience.

"It was wonderful to see their faces light up," she said. "You feel you are making the world a little happier place."

The Columbia resident had surgery on her throat two years ago and thought taking up singing -- something she had done previously in a church choir -- would help her get her voice back in shape. She chose the senior choir because it is a good place for beginners.

"It's comfortable here," she said, "because if you're a little off key, nobody complains."

Merritt added: "I think [singing] is a different way to use your voice other than talking, and it lifts up your spirits. ... When you sing in unison with other people, then you're joined with the other people."

The choir members help choose the material and, Mayhew said, have shown an affinity for upbeat, lighthearted songs, patriotic standards and inspirational music.

Their book includes America the Beautiful, Johnny Mercer's Too Marvelous for Words, Amazing Grace and No Man is an Island, sung by Joan Baez, among other tunes.

Carol Stover, 68, of Columbia said audience members seem to like the selections.

"The people really enjoy it and appreciate it," she said. "I always tear up when we do patriotic songs."

Stover said she sang as a child, but "I didn't have too many opportunities to sing during my adult life."

Now, she said, she has found an outlet that is convenient and fun.

She added: "Our voices may not be at the prime, but we are all able to have this joy we have in music."

Information on the senior choir: the Bain Center, 410-313-7469, or

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