The Singing Senior Citizen

Our youth culture loves the sound of singing emanating from young throats.

All around us are examples of singers in their teens, twenties, thirties, and forties, but the singing of senior citizens rarely is noticed or given its due.

In reading the texts on singing from the past 300 years, one thing comes back again and again:voices RETAINED their freshness into old age. Adelina Patti, the diva of the nineteenth century, sang into her sixties, as did many other singers of that era and before. Vocal deterioration due to health would be the only cause of a premature decline in a singer’s singing forces. This of course, is contingent upon the fact that the technique of singing is HEALTHY, and free from constriction and tension.

Senior citizens can maintain their singing voices through guided exercise. They may have a reduction in stamina, but should still be able to sing music of varying difficulty based on their skill. But they should still SING.

Several years ago, I attended a memorial tribute to Renata Tebaldi in New York City. It was a star-studded affair with many celebrated singers from the mid-twentieth century in attendance. On the program was none other than the celebrated Italian tenor Carlo Bergonzi, in his seventies. The voice, burnished with time, rendered a stunning “Ave Maria.” Age had affected the voice, but the character of the sound was distinct, expressive, and his legato was untouched by time.

He was a masterclass of singing that evening, and an experience I will never forget.

Over the holiday, I watched the documentary “Alive Inside.” In the documentary, senior citizens suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia are given personal music players with playlists built from music that they listened to in their life. Because the portion of the brain that connects to music is the last to deteriorate, these nursing home patients were enlivened, and literally ‘brought back to life.’ If you can watch it on Netflix, I highly recommend it.

Our senior citizens have seen and lived through much, and their songs are important. They have much to tell us. Music connects them to us, and to OUR history. Are you going to listen to them? I will be on the front row, every time.

2 thoughts on “The Singing Senior Citizen

  1. Hi Justin,
    I have had two senior choirs now, one for 10 years and the other for almost 20 years. The standard is not particularly high, they have no aspirations to sing at a professional standard, they want to sing for the sheer enjoyment of it and for most of that time it is the same people despite their advanced ages, new ones come and go obviously but mostly related to moving away into an old persons home or death of course, but rarely that their voice won’t let them sing anymore. I have bass sopranos, tenor sopranos, altos and sopranos, not many men though they are curiously all tenors, the rarest of the rare but not in old age it seems. We sing everything from old folk songs, to pop songs from the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and 60’s plus Mozart, Franck, Schubert etc. They sing only what they want to sing and they do it joyfully, the enthusiasm easily outweighs the technical side of things. In both choirs I have people in their 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. The oldest in each choir is 99 and they never miss a week, OK the voice is a bit creaky now but the lift it gives them to do something at their age that they can still get enjoyment from is immeasurable. I know for a fact that without the weekly singing practice and occasional concert these people would probably have entered a vegetative state staring at four walls waiting for the grim reaper to call them by name. As it is they have hung up the sign that says “gone singing do not call back” and as for me I go there each week often as tired as hell and leave with a spring in my step. What singing does for an older person is wonderful, it improves their breathing and blood circulation, they are with other active people working together having a great time. I could catalogue a whole boatful of benefits they take from singing, it is certainly the one activity a person should never give up doing even when they reach 100 as two of mine will during the next year, who needs pills to live longer when an hours singing each week can do it without nasty side-effects.

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