CATONSVILLE, MD (June 25, 2017) -- Ella Fitzgerald once said, "The only thing better than singing is more singing," a notion Evelyn Chesnutt agrees with wholeheartedly.
"I've been playing the piano and singing for over 75 years. I started taking piano lessons when I was just eight years old, and I sang in and accompanied choirs all my life," says Evelyn, who leads The Harmonizers, a 45-member mixed chorus at Charlestown retirement community.
The Harmonizers formed 18 years ago from two separate choral groups at Charlestown: the Ladies in Harmony and the Men's Chorale.
Evelyn stepped into the role of chorus director in 2010. The group performs an annual spring and winter concert, often to a full house, in the community's Muriel Caulfield Auditorium. A dedicated group of nearly two dozen volunteers helps sell tickets and advertise the concerts, as well as serve as ushers. Charlestown residents trained in lighting and sound also offer their expertise during performances.
"We have an extensive music library, and I try to pick out a variety of pieces knowing the ability and interests of our group," says Evelyn. "We work very hard practicing three to four months before each concert."
This spring's concert included a mixture of classics and show tunes like "The Long and Winding Road" by The Beatles and "Circle of Life" from the Broadway musical The Lion King.
"We give the audience a solid hour of good singing," says David Douds.
David began singing in junior high school and continued with church choirs throughout his life. He later sang with the Cathedral Choral Society, a performing arts group in Washington, D.C. He joined The Harmonizers shortly after moving to Charlestown in 2010.
"I've sung all my life, and I love to do it," says David. "I'm a musical person. I don't play any instruments, but I certainly play those old vocal chords. It is very fulfilling for me."
A recent study shows that singing with a chorus not only makes you feel good, it also may be good for your heart. An exploratory study out of Sweden published in the 2013 journal Frontiers in Neuroscience found that singing in a choir may have health benefits similar to doing yoga.
Researchers followed the heart rates of choral singers ages 15 to 18 in three different vocal exercises: monotone humming, singing a Swedish hymn, and chanting a slow mantra.
They discovered that each singer's overall heart rate slowed when they sang together with a group, and as they sang in unison their heartbeats gradually synchronized.
Music has been a big part of Lorraine Varacalle's life ever since she learned to play the piano at an early age.
"I love music; it's always been a very integral part of my life," says Lorraine, who studied at Peabody Institute. "As a child, my parents wanted me to learn to play an instrument. They let me pick which one. I think they figured I would choose the mandolin or the accordion. When I came back and said I wanted to play the piano, my dad looked at me and said, 'You do realize if we buy you a piano you have to stick with it.'
"I love to play the piano and sing," says Lorraine. "As soon as I moved to Charlestown, I called Evelyn about joining The Harmonizers. The group has been a wonderful musical outlet for me. I really enjoy it."
Although prior singing experience is not a prerequisite to join The Harmonizers, Evelyn says it's helpful if people have sung with a church or community choir, and the ability to read music is a bonus.
"It's a big commitment. We practice two to three hours each week," says Evelyn. "The people in the group really get to know each other, and there is a great camaraderie amongst everyone. I think singing is a great hobby for anyone, but it is particularly good for seniors because it's something you can enjoy and brightens your life."
The Harmonizers' concerts are open to the public. For upcoming concert dates and times or to watch past performances, visit charlestownharmonizers.org.