Longtime Centennial resident sings in virtual holiday concert

Online choir program brings older adults together amid isolation

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After 25 years working for the Cherry Creek School District, Katherine Carothers retired in June 2015 and didn't know what to do with herself.

“I had been so busy for so long,” said Carothers, 70, who served as an administrative assistant at West Middle and Cherry Creek High schools.

Half a year into her retirement, she saw a flier at Goodson Recreation Center in Centennial about a local choir called 5280+ Encore Chorale and decided to attend a meeting. It didn't take long for her to join.

After four years singing with the choir, Carothers saw it shut down activity in March as the coronavirus tore through Colorado. But for Carothers and hundreds of others, a saving grace came in the form of a virtual choir program that started in September.

“It's not perfect, but it's better than nothing,” Carothers laughed.

Amid the pandemic, the nonprofit Encore Creativity for Older Adults, based in Maryland, offers a “reinvented” virtual choral program, Encore University, according to a news release. The program offers singing and a large selection of classes in voice technique, music theory and music history. Carothers describes it as similar to a college course.

“You pay a fee, they send you music, they send you a CD of the music so you can hear it and practice on our own at home, and they have rehearsals weekly on Zoom,” said Carothers, referring to the videoconferencing application.

Carothers is one of more than 400 singers from across the country who are performers in a virtual holiday choral concert — titled "Joy!" — that premieres Dec. 17.

Singing virtually comes with challenges — it's difficult to hear others during practice because of the delay on the Zoom call — but the singers do the best they can, Carothers said.

Growing up in California, Carothers sang in elementary and high school and in college. When she got married and moved to different places, she didn't have access to a choir until coming to the Denver area, she said. She joined a small ladies' choir around 1999, “but we never had any money, so we had to stop,” Carothers said.

“This is the first choir experience I've been able to have in quite a long time,” Carothers said of her activity with 5280+ Encore Chorale, which practices at Buck Recreation Center in Littleton and is connected to the Encore Creativity for Older Adults organization.

Especially amid the pandemic, “It's just a really great thing to meet other people and be together,” Carothers said.

“I live alone, and particularly now with the virus, there are many days when I don't go out and see other people. So even though it's a virtual choir, I get to see people and I feel good. It gives me something to look forward to and (lets me) kind of be a part of something,” Carothers said.

People interested in trying the choir don't need to know how to sing — the program teaches participants as it goes along, Carothers added. The group does exercises at the top of each rehearsal, including vocal exercises but also getting arms and legs moving and practicing good breathing, Carothers said.

“I really like how it feels when we've worked really hard and either at a rehearsal or a concert, we sound really great,” Carothers said. She added: “It's uplifting. It's just a natural high — you've worked hard, you've accomplished this.”

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