Senior Songsters spread seasonal cheer

By Devon Lash

Posted: 12/21/2009 10:06:25 PM EST


The Senior Songsters, a troupe of performers from the Senior Men's Association of Stamford, sing holiday songs to the residents of Edgehill Retirement Home in Stamford Friday. (Dru Nadler/For The Advocate)

STAMFORD -- Like most performers, the Senior Songsters have learned to expect the unexpected from their audiences.

The all-male troupe from the Senior Men's Association of Stamford perform seasonal classics -- from show tunes to opera choruses to serenades -- for live audiences of their peers in senior residences, nursing homes and other locations.

"A year ago, a woman wheeled up to me and said, 'Are you single? I'm looking for a husband,' " member Norm Wholley said, laughing as he recalled a performance at Greenwich's Nathaniel Witherell.

Wholley said he tried to politely point out his wife, who was in the crowd, but by the time he had turned back to his pursuer, she was on to the next singer.

He recounyted another incident when the group's dozen performers switched from a Hanukkah classic to a traditional Christmas carol, and a Jewish audience member heralded the transition with a loud "Oy vey," drawing laughter from the crowd and the singers.

The 14 songsters, mostly retired men in Stamford, practice each week for about 16 performances a year.

"A lot of them are retired bankers and doctors and they just happen to love singing," said choral director Arden Anderson-Broecking, a former professional singer and opera director. "But they are all excellent musicians with very beautiful voices."

Many of the members have been in church choirs or had a career in the music business, said member Tom Van Gessel.

To hear Wholley tell it, the group's genesis was a foregone conclusion. He has been with the Senior Songsters since it began about 14 years ago.

"Along the way, someone got the idea, 'There's a piano here, let's make use of this,' " he said.

The troupe concludes each gig by passing out song sheets and inviting the audience to sing along to well-known favorites.

"We have the audience mix in with us, and the next thing you know, they're singing along," Van Gessel said. "They really do seem to appreciate it."

Allen Brown, the director of Nathaniel Witherell, said the residents love the well-known group, which returns year after year.

"They spread out in a circle around the room, and they pass out the words to the music and everyone joins in," Brown said. "It's kind of fun."

And the free concerts, which the performers diligently prepare for each season, offer great rewards in return, Anderson-Broecking said.

"Over the years, we have reached several people who don't communicate very much," she said. "One gentlemen didn't speak, but he was mouthing all the words he knew."

"If you reach one person, you've done your job," she added.

Staff Writer Devon Lash can be reached at 203-964-2242 or