Minnetonka’s music through the ages

Senior Chorale group is more than 40 years old and still going strong

By Gabby Landsverk, Sun Sailor Newspapers

On the second floor of Minnetonka’s community center, late morning sunlight streams through the window and strains of music can be heard faintly down the halls; soft harmonies of “What a Wonderful World” drift from the Purgatory Creek meeting room to the ears of anyone walking the corridor.
Inside, as many as 32 senior citizens, accompanied by a pianist and a conductor, practice the beautiful four-part harmonies every Wednesday, September through May, for the Minnetonka Senior Chorale, one of the west metro’s oldest musical groups.

The chorale is one of more than seven musical groups included in the Music Association of Minnetonka, founded in 1974 and partnering with the city to provide musical opportunities for people of all ages, from the Chorus A La Carte, youth choirs, the symphony orchestra and the Senior Chorale.
The seniors themselves range from 72 to 85 years old, but sing with an enthusiasm and clarity that belies their years.

As they practice, conductor David Halligan good-naturedly keeps the group in line, reminding them to pause and stay on-tempo, or crescendo as needed.
“No running red lights! Don’t forget to breathe,” Halligan says to the group with a smile.
Halligan is the interim director of the chorale, and a board member of the Music Association of Minnetonka.

Halligan, a resident of Shakopee who works full-time as an insurance agent, is an East Coast native with a lifelong background in music. He graduated with a music degree,
“I was a music teacher out of college but it didn’t pay the bills so I went into business,” Halligan said.
In his business career, he traveled across the nation working for Schwan’s.
“Every community I’ve been in across America, I’ve gotten involved in community groups,” Halligan said.

He later settled into role for All State. Nine years ago, Halligan got involved with the Music Association of Minnetonka as a singer, and never looked back.
He now directs the Plymouth Rockers, another senior chorus. Halligan said he’ll step down from his leadership in Music Association of Minnetonka at the end of the year, to give someone else a chance to take the leadership role.
“I’ve tried to give the members a learning experience, a social atmosphere and an enjoyable time, bringing them to a concert-ready level,” Halligan said. “It offers that, a place for people to keep singing as they get older, as they retire.”

Ruth and Rich Campbell joined the chorale after moving to Minnetonka from Iowa two years ago.
“We’ve been singing our whole lives. In a state of 10,000 lakes, you can’t find a choir for miles around except in a church. So we ended up here,” Rich said.
The non-audition group offers anyone a chance to participate, even if they haven’t performed since their high school or college choir days.
Members include seniors from Chile and Russia, and range from new residents of the metro to life-long Minnetonka natives.

Phyllis Olson has been attending chorale practices and performances in Minnetonka for 23 years.
“The people in the group are wonderful,” she said. “It’s just a love of singing – what else – that’s kept us all doing it for so long.”
Halligan said that the other positive aspect of the group is their performances, which include singing for assisted-living residents, retirement homes, church groups and for anyone who needs the special boost that only live music can provide.
“As they get older, people decide they have to redefine their life, and as a volunteer, it’s a wonderful thing that you’re doing, going out and singing for people in assisted living or who otherwise can’t get out,” he said. “That volunteerism, that’s what brings them back every time.”

The combination of social interaction, mental activity, deep breathing and just good, old-fashioned fun also has health benefits for the people involved, a fact Halligan has noticed in his time leading the group.
“It keeps people healthy, because they’re engaged, their minds are engaged, and there’s a social element as well. It gives people a reason to get out of bed in the morning,” he said. “They all get to sing together and really have courage in numbers,”
Members said the singing keeps them young, if not in body, then certainly in heart and soul.
“You’ve just got to keep singing. It keeps your heart light, it helps all your problems,” Rich Campbell said.

“Music is just a pure, joyful thing. A blank slate for the artist. It’s the only thing that this world has not fought over yet,” Halligan added.
He said the chorale, and other local opportunities for senior music in the west metro, helps provide a new creative outlet for retirees who’ve spent active, fulfilling lives in high-energy careers and other pursuits.
“Bless their hearts, they’re great people,” Halligan said. “The senior population, they’re the same people that used to lead companies and make a difference in careers. They all have that great drive to give back. And by coming to music and singing together, they’re doing that in a new way.”

The two-hour session passes quickly, and before they know it, it’s nearly noon and the choir has finished nearly all of their set.
At the end of every practice, the time-honored tradition is to finish with “Sing Yourself Home,” sending the singers off with a smile in their hearts and a spring in their step as they return to their regular lives in a world made just a bit brighter by their music.

Contact Gabby Landsverk at [email protected]