Photos and story By Judith van Berkom
The dynamic singing group, The Sunset Singers, has resumed its weekly practices in preparation for its annual November concert at Centrepoint and other gigs in retirement and nursing homes this fall.
“What The Sunset Singers demonstrate is that age need not be a burden. Aging does change behavior but much of what you were in your younger years can remain with you as you enter your senior years,” says Ed Weick, one of three members from the Kitchissippi Ward area, along with Sharon Shaver and Max Sternthal.
The Sunset Singers share a passion for giving, singing and sharing their lives with each other – they meet occasionally for lunch on Tuesdays after practice and have social get-togethers in the summertime.
Weick has lived in the Kitchissippi Ward for more than 30 years, raising his family in the same house on Melbourne Ave. He worked well into his 70s, both as a public servant for Northern Affairs, and later as a consultant for 20 years.
The singer, whose voice ranges between a tenor and a bass, has a lifelong passion for music and prior to joining The Sunset Singers, sang in a church choir for 10 years.
“The Sunset Singers are a dynamic and energetic group of older people who see the world as a meaningful place – a place they want to affirm and praise through song,” says Weick. “As positive people, they want to do things for their community and its people. They see themselves as singing not because the sun is going down, but because it’s still up there.”
Shaver moved back to the ward seven years ago after living in an outport of Newfoundland on the island of Twillingate for 14 years. Known there as a “mainlander”, she says she could write a book about her experiences.
Like Shaver, the members of the Sunset Singers are a diverse group of seniors accustomed to giving back to their communities. When they perform in nursing homes, choir members are encouraged to mingle with the residents.
“One of the ways to contribute to our society is to sing,” says Shaver. “I like to hold their hand and look into their eyes, touching as many people as I can.”
Before she joined The Sunset Singers, Shaver sang acapella with the Capital Chordettes for five years, in a church choir in Twillingate for two years, and with the Carlington choir for four years upon her return to Ottawa.
Declining health has not stopped many of the members from being active participants in society.
For instance, Sternthal, who is well into his 90s, completed two books, recorded four CDs and created a website to share his research on the history of Israel. Ron Stoltz has recently written a play, which is to be performed at a theatre in Wakefield this fall.
Michael O’Connor, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, served at St. Joseph’s soup kitchen downtown for years. Patricia Hutton produced a CD to celebrate her 80th birthday and still takes piano lessons and practices two hours a day.
These are but a sample of the 15 current members of the choir, and short exerpts of their interesting lives. Ten women and five men, from all parts of Ottawa-Gatineau, make up the current choir. Choir numbers wax and wane according to the health of their members,with ages ranging from the late 60s to well into the 90s.
The group is looking for new members this fall (no previous experience is necessary). Their choir director, Roxanne Goodman – a graduate of Concordia University’s music program – also directs The Big Soul Choir in Ottawa and teaches music from her home. Weick describes Goodman as a superb director, and confidence booster.
Their next performances are at Carlingwood Shopping Centre on October 5 at 10:30 a.m. and again at 1 p.m. A freewill offering is appreciated to offset their costs.
The group’s eighth annual fundraising concert for local charities will take place at Centrepoint Theatre on November 2 at 3 p.m. Everyone is welcome. Children under 12 are free and a cover charge of $20 per person gives you an afternoon of songs, skits and lovely items to bid on in their silent auction.
They also have a Remembrace Day concert planned November 11, for 10:30 a.m. at the Carlingwood Shopping Centre.
To join The Sunset Singers, contact Goodman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 613-424-0595, or Adrienne Packnadel-Powell, who at 80 years of age arranges most of their gigs and handles administration, at email@example.com.
Practices are on Tuesdays at Temple Israel, 1301 Prince of Wales Drive, Ottawa, at 2 p.m.