MARQUEE - The beat goes on for Park Plaza Senior Choir

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Gerry Rose, manager of Park Plaza Retirement Center, leads the new Park Plaza Senior Choir in a medley of hymns as the group prepared for a concert at Alliance Church.

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Gordon Hare (closes to the camera) Elmer Levin (behind Gorden) and then Beb Frye.

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Joyce Dicuss (closes to the camera) and Evelyn Gibson .

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Gerry Rose, facility manager and director of Park Plaza Senior Choir.

Evelyn Gibson knows validation when she hears it.

"At my church, we don't clap for anything. And they clapped and clapped."

The occasion was the first public performance of the Park Plaza Senior Choir, of which Gibson is a founding member. The venue was Christ Lutheran Church.

And the audience was indeed appreciative. "We're still getting compliments," she said.

The seed for the singing group was planted last fall, explained Gerry Rose at a recent rehearsal in the building's main lobby. A shiny, black baby grand piano anchored the dozen or so singers, who were working on a medley of hymns.

She and her husband, Grady Rose manage the Walla Walla retirement community. Gerry, classically trained in voice, has sung with and directed choirs for years. "At one time I considered opera," she said. "But I got married instead."

It was Grady, however, who put the musical notes on the stave. Park Plaza residents already had daily sessions around the piano, and there was obvious talent. "We were watching TV one night, and Grady said to me, ‘I think you should assemble a choir,'" Gerry recalled.

That was October. Things are already moving fast. With hymnals donated from Athena Baptist Church and in robes borrowed from storage at Gibson's church, the choir recently appeared on Blue Mountain Television.

Invitations from area churches are lined up through the spring, and plans call from an expansion of venues.

The ambitious schedule will do double duty, the choir believes. "We want to inspire people, show them that seniors can do things," explained Mary Barrett, the group's pianist.

"We can do things as well as those little 20-year-olds running around," Gerry echoed.

Getting the senior choir in front of the general public doesn't hurt Park Plaza's name, either. "Everything has marketing," she acknowledged. "To let people know we have a nice building and that we're a family, yes. We haven't come here to die, we have come here to live."

Professional singing is always work, but singing at this moment in life brings its own set of challenges.

Breath control can be difficult, as is standing for entire performances, members said. "At this age, all of us have problems with being in and out of voice," Gerry said, adding that other medical issues associated with aging can bring down the choir's census when people get sick.

"We have to lean on each other."

Tackling some of those physical issues through singing has long-term health benefits, Barrett noted. "When our throat muscles are exercised that allows us to talk longer."

She and Grady have managed five other retirement centers for Holiday Retirement Corporation, the company that owns Park Plaza, Gerry said. This facility, though, is the first one with the heart, "the will and the want," to create and grow a choir.

Indeed, it was the music that drew member Joann Lowe to live at Park Plaza. "Because they sang around the piano every morning," she explained.

Residents play instruments like flute and violin, too. For casual Saturday night sing-alongs in front of the fireplace, Grady strums his guitar as just one part of the music offered.

Every note is a relief to Deloris Worner. She's sung all her life, the choir member explained, but figured age and a retirement situation would silence that, she said. "I thought my singing days were over."

It's good that those days are not over for this group. Several dates are spoken for, and Gerry is on the lookout for more, she said. "We want to be as busy as we can be."

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