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By Tom Durkin
Forever Young Chorus a Stand-Up Group
Singing together considered a key to preventing falls for seniors

“Two thirds of us can’t even read music,” laughed Cynthia Schuetz, founder of the Forever Young (Senior) Chorus and former director of the Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital Foundation’s Falls Prevention Coalition.

“Music is a very critical part of living a vital life,” asserted volunteer Choral Director Colleen Bond, R.N. “It’s a life force.”

Group singing has been scientifically proven to improve balance and lower the risk of serious, life-threatening falls in senior citizens, according to Schuetz.

Depending on the scientific source cited, anywhere from one-third to one-half of people over 65 who have a disabling fall will die within a year. Falls are a leading cause of death among elderly people.

“It’s the not the fall that kills them,” Schuetz said. “It’s the decline that happens after.”

“I got involved with falls because I lost my mother and my mother-in-law,” she explained.

The Falls Prevention Coalition was formed in 2006 with Schuetz as director. It is “a 30-member group of seniors and professionals who work with seniors and nurses, physical and occupational therapists, senior exercise specialists, health educators and independent living and rehabilitation/long-term care specialists … to reduce the risk of falls through education, training and implementation of best practice interventions for falls prevention,” according to the hospital foundation’s website.

Although she turned over the directorship of the coalition to Karen Marinovich this year, Schuetz remains the driving force behind the increasingly popular Forever Young Chorus.

Schuetz holds a Ph.D. in Community Health Education and Masters of Public Health Administration. She taught at San Francisco State University for 20 years before retiring to Nevada County in 1998.

In 2014, she was inspired by research from George Washington University that proved group singing lowered the risk of crippling falls among senior citizens.

The 2007 documentary Young@Heart also had something to do with it. This inspiring film shows the lively senior chorus that has been kicking out the rock’n’roll jams in North Hampton, Mass., for more than 30 years, Schuetz reported.

Schuetz got permission from the board in 2014 to form the Forever Young Senior Chorus with 12 original members.

Today, the group has swelled to approximately 40 members who perform at senior living facilities throughout the area as well as various community events.

Last summer, the chorus performed for the first time on the Pine Tree Stage at the Nevada County Fair, Schuetz reported. “We were so happy.”

Of course, the chorus was a highlight of the Falls Prevention Coalition’s annual conference, which was held Sept. 27 at the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Grass Valley.
No experience required

Anyone who is over 65 and healthy enough to stand and sing is welcome to join the chorus, Schuetz and Bond affirmed.

No musical experience, training or talent is required. All that’s needed is a desire to sing – and a commitment to show up for rehearsals and performances.

“They audition us. We don’t audition them,” Schuetz joked in all seriousness.

The group rehearses every Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at Eskaton Village in Grass Valley.

At 40 members, the group has almost outgrown its rehearsal space, Schuetz noted. “We’re not recruiting, but we don’t turn anybody away either,” she said.

Then she added, “We need men.”

“I love working with the choral members,” said Bond, who turned down a stipend and donates her time and considerable musical background for free.

“I don’t think the members realize I get as much out of the chorus as they do,” Bond revealed. “It brings me joy.”

Although she has a strong, lifelong background in religious music, Bond said she enjoys the secular nature of the Forever Young Chorus, whose members comprise the spectrum of deeply religious to avowed atheists.

“We try to keep it light-hearted and fun,” said Bond, who adapts the lyrics and melodies of the songs they sing to accommodate the limited vocal range and experience of the choral members – and just for fun.
“We laugh a lot,” agreed Schuetz.

“It’s not a democracy”

With 40 members, there are 40 opinions on what the group should sing.
Many members also sing in their church choirs want to sing religious music, especially at Christmas time.

Others believe you’re never too old to rock and roll.

There is a lot of discussion about what to sing and how to sing it, but in the end, “It’s not a democracy,” Schuetz observed. The final choices are made by Bond.

“I’m a hard-headed Irish girl,” Bond affirmed. Besides, “Nobody has to sing” (a song they don’t like).

The Forever Young Chorus has become so popular they are recording their first album and video. As of press time, they were scheduled to record at the Nevada Theatre Monday, Oct. 30.

Paul Emery Music and KVMR are recording the CD. Chorus member Katherine Scourtes and Nevada Theatre’s technical director Tom Taylor are coordinating the video with choral member Pearce Boyer.

Tom Durkin is a freelance writer and photographer in Nevada County. Contact him at tdurkin@vfr.net or www.tomdurkin-writer.net.
Photo by Tom Durkin
Choral Director Colleen Bond conducts the Forever Young Senior Chorus at the Falls Prevention Coalition’s annual conference on Sept. 27.