Music filled Plymouth Congregational Church as the crowd began to sing. It wasn’t a church service, however.
The music was part of the first rehearsal for Stand in the Light, a Chippewa Valley community chorus for people in early to mid-stages of memory loss and their caregivers — including spouses, siblings, children or friends.
“It’s a community choir, some people just happen to have dementia,” said director Cathy Reitz. “It’s not a sing along. It’s not a drop off. It’s, ‘Hey, you’re part of a choir now.’”
The choir kicked off Aug. 25 and rehearses Thursday mornings at the church, 2010 W. Moholt Drive.
“This is just a time for music, a time for song. That’s the biggest thing,” Reitz said, following the choir’s first rehearsal.
Choir member Judy Fuhrer, who is the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, said the choir was a lot of fun.
“What I really liked about it is regardless of the fact that we have Alzheimer’s, it does not interfere with our ability to sing,” Fuhrer said, noting she was diagnosed about two years ago. “So, this is a place where you can be like everybody else.”
She said it was nice not having to worry about forgetting something or blocking something out.
“Here you have music and you sing it and it’s like a freedom for us,” she said.
That is exactly the point, Reitz said.
“With dementia people often self-isolate, and then our society isolates them because we don’t know and we don’t want you to feel bad if you don’t know and this and that,” she said. “And they get afraid. ‘What if I don’t remember? What might happen?’ ... This is a time and a place where you don’t have to think about that.”
Reitz said she chose a lot of songs that would likely be familiar to choir members.
“I’ve always loved ‘God Bless America,’ so that was my favorite song,” Fuhrer said, noting that she sang a lot when she was younger and has a background in music and theater.
The only song that people were likely not as familiar with was the song from which the choir takes its name, “Stand in the Light.”
“Stand in the Light is like, ‘Look, we still have something to give,’ or, ‘Hey, I’m not done. I want to get out there in the light. I still have something to give,’” Reitz said.
The choir caught on to the song immediately, Reitz said.
Lisa Wells, dementia care specialist at the Aging & Disability Resource Center of Eau Claire County, said that this choir and other similar ADRC programs like memory cafes provide are important for participants.
“When I see people, when they’re socially engaged, it’s like they come alive,” she said.
Besides the social aspect, Reitz said there’s also research highlighting the positive impact of music on the brain.
“They’re finding out more and more how healthy singing is for people, for everyone,” she said. “(It improves) your breathing, your posture. You’re getting your mind to work. Recent studies have even shown that people with some advanced dementia can learn new things if it’s put to music.”
The idea makes sense, she said, when you think of how we teach children things, such as the ABC song to learn the alphabet.
Reitz said Wells first approached her about the choir after learning about a similar group in Minneapolis called Giving Voice Chorus.
“And I was completely against it,” said Reitz, who lost a sister to dementia.
However, when she watched a video of the group, she changed her mind.
“I thought this is amazing,” she said. “I want to do this. I want to be a part of this.”
She was able to contact the organizers and attend a Giving Voice Chorus event to hear the members sing.
“What I saw and what happened here today is when these people are singing you can’t tell. You don’t know who has dementia,” Reitz said.
Fuhrer said she’s happy to have the opportunity.
“It is something that we can do without Alzheimer’s interfering with it,” she said. “We can be on the same level as other people. I think it’s a wonderful opportunity.”
The choir is set to perform a concert at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 10 at Plymouth Congregational Church.
Contact: 715-833-9214, firstname.lastname@example.org, @EmilyMiels on Twitter
• Those interested in joining Stand in the Light should contact Lisa Wells at the Aging and Disability Resource Center of Eau Claire County at 715-839-4735. The cost is $25 per pair.