Seventeen years ago, Nalora "Lo" Steele moved to Linden Ponds, the Erickson Senior Living community in Hingham, Mass., after a distinguished career as a music teacher and performer - highlighted by two invitations to the White House.
But her musical pursuits were far from over. Within months of her move, Lo had recruited a number of her new neighbors for what would become the community's premier performance group: the Linden Ponds Repertory Company.
"In the summer of 2006, I met a lovely neighbor, Alma Petrillo," Lo says. "We discovered that we both taught elementary school music. The longer we talked, the more we learned we had in common."
At the time, Lo was putting together a resident choral group, the Linden Ponds Singers.
"I asked Alma if she would be willing to accompany us on the piano, and she said yes," Lo recalls. "The rest is history!"
The company, which now features the talents of over 100 residents, stages musical performances throughout the year, including two major shows.
"Alma and I, along with many, many other people, put this company together," she says. "And when I say many - it's true. We are currently planning a celebration party for all those who've participated with the company, and the guest list is over 500 residents."
Wealth of experience
Lo's vast knowledge of and experience in musical performance has helped to make the Repertory Company a runaway hit.
Earning a bachelor's degree in music at the New England Conservatory of Music and a master's degree in music at Boston University, she worked as a music specialist in the Brookline School District. Later, she taught at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Mass., retiring as Professor Emeritus in 2019.
Lo also spent 25 years singing with the Opera Company of Boston, Opera New England, and the American Opera Company. She even sang at two state dinners at the White House, including a performance for the seven astronauts who landed on the moon.
"That was such a special moment in my career," she says. "Another was receiving the honor of grand marshal at a Berklee College of Music graduation. I led in Carole King, Kris Kristofferson, and Willie Nelson. That was so much fun! Through Berklee, I have been able to touch those who have had great careers."
A welcoming environment
The Repertory Company never holds auditions, Lo says.
"Instead, I work with residents who need assistance with singing or reading music," she explains. "And in turn, they bring skills from their own lives! We have doctors, lawyers, business people, academics, and women who've raised as many as 12 children - each bringing their unique background to what we do."
As a result of this welcoming atmosphere, Lo keeps her eyes open for residents who might be interested in giving theater a try, despite their lack of experience.
"Once in a while, I'll find someone who has a specific 'something' they show me in ordinary conversation, and I think, 'Oh my goodness, they will fit this character perfectly.' So, I invite them to join us," she says.
The same is true for Linden Ponds staff members.
In addition to Lo's neighbors, every show has featured either children or grandchildren of a resident and/or members of the administration and staff.
Last year, the company premiered Excerpts from South Pacific, featuring four members of Linden Ponds' administration team in the chorus as Seabees: Executive Director James Centola, Associate Executive Director Shawn Morales, Director of General Services John Amonte, and Director of Dining Tomas Gonzalez.
"They were so much fun to work with!" Lo says. "And it seems like they all were bitten by the acting bug, because they also performed in our most recent production, Excerpts from Damn Yankees."
A bright future
Earlier this year, the company created a production about the seasons.
"The performers were magnificent," says Lo, who served as the conductor. "Some of the pieces called for acting, others for choral presentation. It was truly a remarkable show, but that is the reputation that the company has built for themselves - remarkable."
Residents, staff, and family members are already hard at work, planning the details of the company's fall show.
"I am very, very happy here. You can imagine how rewarding it is, to see this community grow," says Lo. "There is something about singing that fosters a community spirit - it keeps people happy and engaged. There are so many ways to contribute, so this is just one piece of the wonderful life that residents have at Linden Ponds!"
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