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What’s that tune?

Newest music group at Riderwood makes notable performances

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April 5th, 2017
Ray Roth, leader of Riderwood’s Gentlemen’s Songsters, has been singing all of his life and has a Ph.D. in music education.

Ray Roth, leader of Riderwood’s Gentlemen’s Songsters, has been singing all of his life and has a Ph.D. in music education.

Riderwood is home to dozens of talented singers and musicians. In fact, the community has several resident-run music groups that perform for their neighbors throughout the year. 

The newest music club to grace the stage at Riderwood’s performing arts center is the Gentlemen’s Songsters, an all-male group that sings a range of popular songs, including hits from the so-called Great American Songbook.

Tapping into a lifelong passion 

Resident Ray Roth organized the Gentlemen’s Songsters, a name that stems from the theme song of the Yale Men’s Glee Club. 

Ray, an Illinois native, studied music education at Millikin University in Decatur, Ill. He played trombone and jazz accordion in Army bands, and then went on to earn a master’s degree from the University of Illinois and a Ph.D. from Michigan State. He helped to establish the music department at the University of Michigan’s satellite campus in Flint, Mich., and served as chair of the department for many years. 

Singing has been one of Ray’s passions for many years.

“I have always sung since my voice changed,” Ray says. “And I have sung under some very talented vocal composers.”

Ray and his wife Cidney lived for many years in Mackinaw City, Mich., where Ray organized a 12-person vocal jazz group as well as a gospel singing group of eight men. 

Their house, though, was on a wooded lot in the country and required a lot of upkeep. In 2015, they decided to move to Riderwood, the Erickson Living community in Silver Spring, Md., to shed home maintenance and be closer to their children and grandchildren who live in the area. 

“We decided to come out here, and it was a great move,” Ray says. “We have two grandchildren who we can see much more now.”

Musical progression 

Ray naturally gravitated to the music scene at Riderwood. Shortly after moving to the community, he became acquainted with fellow resident Myra Tate, who leads Riderwood’s women’s chorus, Grace Notes. Myra asked Ray and some other men to sing Christmas carols at the end of Grace Notes’ 2015 holiday concert. 

Ray enjoyed that experience, so he started looking for a few other men at Riderwood who might want to sing barbershop with him. It turned out that quite a few men were interested, and Ray ended up with a group of nine singers. 

That group of nine men sang again with Grace Notes as well as with Riderwood’s Acousti-Cats, a group of 25 ukulele and guitar players who perform several times each year. 

The male singing group was well received by the community, and several other members joined bringing the total to 18 singers. The Gentlemen’s Songsters put on their first solo concert last fall, singing a mix of spiritual, patriotic, and Broadway tunes. 

“We also had a pianist, and my wife, who is an accompanist, played a flute solo,” Ray says. “Our executive director Gary Hibbs and [resident] Paul Forbes did vocal solos, so we had four soloists total.”

The Gentlemen’s Songsters rehearse weekly, and their next concert is scheduled for May. Ray says the group will sing crowd-pleasers such as George Gershwin’s “Summertime,” Frank Sinatra’s “Embraceable You,” and Etta James’ “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.”

“We’re going to include a few surprises too,” Ray says.

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