Jingling with the Golden Agers
AL ZAGOFSKY/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS What would "Jingle Bells" be without the cadence of sleigh bells compliments of the Panther Valley Golden Agers Chorus?
Caroling to the bouncing piano riffs of musical director Marian Schuler, the Panther Valley Golden Agers Chorus sang to the residents of MapleShade Meadows Assisted Living in Nesquehoning that, "It was Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas."
The 15-voice chorus not only enlivened the hall with music, they also bonded with the audience, as they had two connections to MapleShade. They had once used the room for their rehearsals, and members of the chorus was as old, or perhaps, older than the residents.
Golden Agers Chorus range in age from up to 96 years, down to Mimi Marrin of Lansford, the youngest at 61. "I joined the Golden Agers when I was 55, six years ago, and became a member of the chorus," Marrin said. "I love to sing. I love music, although I did not have a musical background before joining. I learned a lot of the old songs from my dad."
"Everybody is so nice," said alto Phyllis Novotny. "I can't sing as well as I once could. I don't have the breath that I used to have."
Questioned about her favorite song of the Christmas performance, Novotny chose "Silent Night." And when asked about what part of the song do you get excited about? She replied, "I don't get excited about it, it's supposed to be quiet."
Among the 15 chorus members, there were but two men, both named Alex. Alex Sherepa, a 90-year-old bass, has been singing for 50 years. He remembers singing with John Rita from Tamaqua. "He got his baton from Lawrence Welk at the Paramount Theater in New York," Sherepa said.
The other fellow, Alex Maketa, 87, has been with the chorus for ten plus years and is currently membership chairman. The chorus is part of the Panther Valley Golden Agers, a group with 903 members. The two men lamented the declining membership as members passed away.
The empowerment behind the chorus, director Marian Shuler retired as a music teacher from the Norristown School District in 2001. Busier than ever, she is on a mission of sharing the joy of music with the elderly.
From behind an upright piano, the pixie-like Shuler seemed to play with both hands, and somehow found another set of hands to wave the chorus into the animation of the music-all the while singing with overly widened lips to encourage the chorus members to properly enunciate the words of the song.
At the age of four, Shuler saw her first piano, and "fell in love with it." When not directing the Golden Agers, she sings alto with the Bach & Handle Choral, accompanies the Penn Kidder Chorus, and plays for her church, Immaculate Conception.
The Panther Valley Golden Agers Chorus has played or will play at Mahoning Valley, Hometown Nursing, Mapleshade Meadow, Lansford High Rise, St. Joe's, and Coaldale. They specialize in seasonal music, which includes: Irish music for St. Patrick's Day, Easter songs in the spring, Patriotic music for Memorial Day, etc.
Cleda Olson, a soprano who will be 91 years old in January, has been singing with the chorus since 1992. "I come because I'm Welsh and I enjoy singing," she said. "My maiden name was Jones. The Welsh love to sing.
"I love children, especially singing to children," she continued. "I have a friend who is 81 years old. I sang to her when she was a little girl."
As the snow fluttered gently outside MapleShade's window, and the sleigh bells jingled inside, it was truly beginning to look a lot like Christmas.