Editor’s note: Lois M. Collins wrote this story while participating in The California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships, a program of USC’s Annenberg School of Journalism.
Choir practice starts with a meditation, then the singers yawn their scales, mouths open wide. They stretch their arms and buzz like bees. They sing “ch” sounds to the tune of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” They laugh a lot.
These singers are older than you’d find in most choirs. Nancy Miles is 83. Even some younger ones are retired, like Joan Christensen, 69, or Carla and Mike McIntire, 66 and 68.
Over the summer, musician and composer Mary Lou Prince started this Encore Chorale for singers older than 55 because she knows music is magic. That is especially true for older singers, many of whom were invited to leave other choirs because of their age.
I am not someone who joins a lot of things.
“When I saw it in the newspaper, I felt like it was a godsend for me,” said choir member Charlotte Jensen, 77. She is long divorced, her children grown. “I am not someone who joins a lot of things.”
But she loves music: she loves to sing. And prior to the choir, she said she hadn’t been involved in much of anything for the past three years.
This choir is a hedge against loneliness.
Loneliness, as a medical matter, has begun to capture the attention of health experts worldwide. A growing body of research compares loneliness to documented health killers like smoking and obesity.
The fallout from loneliness is so expensive that England’s Department of Health is measuring the problem and recently launched its “Campaign to End Loneliness.” Former Prime Minister Tony Blair was the first to appoint a minister of joy, officially called the “Happiness Tsar,” a position that continues today. British experts say lonely people exercise less and drink more. They may end up prematurely in long-term care.
The United States lags behind Britain on this. There are pockets of activity, like the Encore Chorale, and researchers ponder loneliness and its implications. But most people don’t understand the devastating impact. Loneliness can kill.