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In perfect harmony

Ashby Ponds Songbirds strike the right notes

Created date

May 24th, 2011

A bird doesn t sing because it has an answer; it sings because it has a song. Maya Angelou Within weeks after Ashby Ponds, an Erickson Living community in Ashburn, Va., first opened its doors in 2008, community members were eager to let their voices be heard in song. Congregating in the cozy lobby of the Cardinal Clubhouse on a chilly December morning, enthusiastic singers met for the campus s first sing-along. Music does so much for you, says community member Julia Ferguson, who attended the sing-along. It s wonderful for your mind and your soul. The success of the first sing-along led to two more get-togethers in January and February 2009. At the same time, a music survey was conducted among the residents to determine whether or not there was enough interest to start a choir. The answer was a definitive yes, and the Songbirds began to sing.

The first notes

With the birth of the first campus choir, plans were quickly underway to identify group leadership and to rehearse music for the first concert. Community member and pianist Alleen Wheeless gladly stepped into the role of choir pianist and agreed to serve as the group s temporary director until a permanent director could be found. I ve played the piano all my life and have been a private piano teacher, she says. Being the pianist for the Songbirds helps my fingers stay nimble, my mind active, aches and pains forgotten, and true pleasure experienced. Wheeless s friend and fellow singer Julia Ferguson soon took over the role of director, a position she still enjoys. I had done some singing in college so I agreed to take on the responsibility, Ferguson says. I like to sing and can read music, but Alleen is a true musician and teacher. She is a great resource. We do a lot of teaching for those who do not read music, and her help is immeasurable. Each Monday morning the Songbirds rehearse together for one of the group s quarterly concerts. We decided that our choir should have one membership rule and that is all who enjoy singing are welcome, says Wheeless. Our 50-plus members range from those who have no musical background to some semiprofessional choir members and members with music degrees. Regardless of your voice or whether or not you can read music, it doesn t matter, says Ferguson. We have so much fun getting together and singing.

Sharing the love of music

Each Songbirds concert showcases at least 15 songs. Most of the songs are sung by the entire choir, but small octets, sextets, quartets, duets, and soloists are also included. For those of us who have sung in choirs and glee clubs most of our lives, it s wonderful to have a place to continue to do something we love, says Alice Buck, who joined the Songbirds just this year. I love the Songbirds; even the practices are fun, says Pat Hemmer. It s a good group of people and different people meet to pick out the songs for a concert, so we get others opinion on what we all sing. It s really important to us that we sing the songs properly, says Ferguson. Although we often select familiar tunes, many times we learn that we don t know all the verses. So we take our time and it pays off. This relaxed atmosphere and attention to musical details are two of the main reasons why Songbird membership attracts a wide range of musicians. In addition to singing for their own enjoyment, the Ashby Ponds Songbirds strive to allow others who may not want to get up in front of their peers the opportunity to raise their voices in song. As a result, each concert is given as a sing-along, in the tradition of their first get-togethers. It s a great feeling to hear everyone singing together, says Ferguson. We provide the words to all of our songs so everyone can participate. At the Songbirds most recent concert, The Spring Medley, words to popular songs such as Singing in the Rain were projected on a large screen above the singers. Rehearsals are now underway for the Songbirds patriotic-themed summer concert. We always include a service medley at this concert, says Ferguson. We invite all of the veterans to stand up and be recognized.

Final note

With so many enthusiastic singers at Ashby Ponds, the Songbirds provide a wonderful forum for artistic expression. The emphasis on inclusion, both on and off the stage, helps make the group one of the campus s most popular groups. We sound as good as we do not only because of practice but also because we are all having fun, says Ferguson. We have all become friends. And with that type of harmony how can the result be anything but melodious?