OVERLAND PARK, KS (April 21, 2017) -- Music fills the air every Wednesday afternoon in Tallgrass Creek retirement community's clubhouse classroom as about 40 neighbors enthusiastically join together in song. The group, known as the Tallgrass Creek Chorale, gathers for weekly practice. It's a unique, musical experience for all.
"I've sung in church choirs since I was 16 so really enjoy the chorale," says Harlan Brockman, who sings bass. "We are so fortunate here to have someone lead us who has both musical and teaching experience."
That someone is retired professional vocalist Jan Ericson, who founded the Chorale eight years ago soon after she and her husband Hartley moved to Tallgrass Creek.
"We began as a once-a-year caroling group, but that ignited a musical spark in many who lived here, so we organized into a weekly practice," says Jan. "Our practices are a wonderful time of music and camaraderie."
It's only fitting that Jan was asked to lead the group. She has a degree in vocal performance from Houghton College in New York State, and over the years has performed solos in many productions of George Handel's highly acclaimed "The Messiah."
Those performances took place in Chicago, IL, Jan's former hometown before she moved to Leawood, KS, in 1981. While living in Chicago, she also taught piano lessons, which she continued teaching from her Leawood home. In total, Jan has taught piano lessons for forty-nine years and still has twenty-two students.
"It's my first love, musically speaking," says Jan.
Chorale singers start their weekly tune-up with Jan at the piano leading singers through several warm-up exercises. The practice then moves onto familiar arrangements such as those by Stephen Foster and Irving Berlin and often to the not-so-familiar folk and classical music. Patriotic songs are often part of the musical lineup too.
Throughout the practice, Jan focuses on helping the altos, basses, tenors, and sopranos learn their individual parts.
"We tackle a lot of different music, and sometimes we're on the edge of our capabilities," laughs Jan. "But when we sing together, it really sounds nice. More important, we have a lot of fun."
The chorale's performance is a highlight of Tallgrass Creek's Veterans Day ceremony each November. The group also performs occasional themed concerts.
Past performances include songs from the decades, music from the Civil War, and a special concert celebrating the statehood of Kansas, where everyone joined in singing state song "Oh, Give Me a Home."
Often, Jan includes slide shows and narratives to accompany the concerts which always play to a full house. They also perform sing-alongs throughout the year, especially during the holidays.
Jan is quick to point out trained voices are not a prerequisite to joining the chorale, rather a willingness to learn and have fun.
"Most of our singers are surprised to see how much weekly practice strengthens their voices and enhances rhythm," says Jan. "Singing and reading music are also great for the brain. It's actually very holistic."
Jan's personal musical favorites include classical, orchestral, easy listening, and Christian music. However, she says she rarely meets a tune she doesn't like.
She has passed her love of music on to her daughter Tara Wiley, a professional violinist who lives in North Dakota.
Jan has also learned to love conducting the Tallgrass Creek Chorale and says it tunes her heart to other people.
"It's truly invigorating to experience learning together," says Jan. "There's a lot of laughing and joy. I love passing on what I have always loved."