Singers at Park Plaza, Lincoln High team up for concert

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Generations apart in appearance and age, Lincoln High School student Shane Schavrien sits next to Park Plaza resident Elaine Emerson, left, as the Park Plaza and Lincoln Choir rehearses through several songs before their Wednesday performance together.

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From the balcony above, a Park Plaza resident listens to a rehearsal Monday afternoon. Other residents scattered around the atrium enjoyed a sneak peek of what the tow choirs have put together for the ir first performance this week.

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Park Plaza residents sit quietly while Lincoln High School students Katrina Robbins and Shane Schavrien tease each other after choir rehearsal Monday afternoon.

WALLA WALLA -- A love of singing has brought together two unlikely groups.

Members of the Lincoln High School choir have been singing with the Park Plaza Senior Choir since earlier this year. On Wednesday, the two groups will sing as one during a concert at Walla Walla Community College's China Pavilion.

The combined choir, of about 12 members from each generation, came together thinking they had little in common. Different taste in music was one of the initial divides.

"It was certainly a lot different from our type of music," said Evelyn Gibson, social director at the center and one of the choir members.

Yet during a weekly rehearsal Monday, the choir was at ease singing Coldplay's "Viva la Vida." From there, the group took on Roxette's "Listen to Your Heart."

Gibson said Park Plaza started its choir about two years ago. It started with a group of residents singing hymns around breakfast time, and secular songs in the evening.

The choir then began performing in the community in churches and at schools. They sang 64 engagements last year.

Earlier this spring, staff at Lincoln High School got in touch with the Park Plaza choir to talk about a partnership. The experience introduced two generations to each other, music included.

Ray Hahn was one of the senior choir members who was hesitant about the mixed choir at first.

"I'm glad I stuck with it," he said. "It's been fun and interesting. Rewarding is the word I want."

He said the joining of the choruses opened the way to learn songs he "wouldn't have touched otherwise."

"Young people songs," he said.

Park Plaza Manager Gerry Rose said she was contacted by Jeremy Gradwohl from Lincoln earlier in the year. Gradwohl runs the after-school program The Lift at Lincoln, and coordinates the choir with music teacher Margaret Yount.

Gradwohl was inspired to start the combined choir after watching the documentary "Young at Heart," Rose recalled. The film is about a senior choir that breaks stereotypes by performing modern songs.

The idea was to bring two generations together. The experience has been a test of patience on both sides, Rose said. She said the Park Plaza seniors, and the Lincoln students, each have unique challenges. Park Plaza offers independent senior living. Lincoln is a small high school, an alternative to Walla Walla High School.

Working through those challenges has been part of the experience.

"It was a new challenge for us," Rose said. "We had to learn young adults' music. Well it's a lot different than ours."

Wednesday's concert will highlight four songs performed by the senior members, and four by the students. Then the two groups will sing four songs as one choir.

"It has been wonderful," Rose said. "It has actually drawn the two generations together, where it has given respect for both. It has worked well."

Scott Schneider, 19, graduated from Lincoln last week, but was at Park Plaza Monday for the rehearsal.

"The (Lincoln) choir really changed when we came to sing with the seniors," Schneider said. "It used to be just a class. This is something we look forward to."

Schneider said he also gained respect and understanding for the senior singers.

"I've learned it's a lot more energetic than you'd expect," he said about senior life. "It's all happy and upbeat around here.

"It's been nice. It's been refreshing. Something I look forward to in the week."

Kelly Wheeler is the beautician at Park Plaza, and has worked there for 22 years. She has seen first-hand the positive effects the combined choir has had on the residents.

"The residents talk about this every single day. The kids are important to them," she said.

She said despite the residents' daily challenges, they have stuck with it. Many need the help of a walker to get around. Wheeler said one lady undergoes dialysis a few times a week.

"Yet she's always here singing in the choir," Wheeler said.

"They're not rock stars, but they love this. It gives them purpose."

Maria P. Gonzalez can be reached at mariagonzalez@wwub.com or 526-8317.

IF YOU GO

The Lincoln High School/Park Plaza choir will perform Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. in the China Pavilion at Walla Walla Community College. The concert is free and open to the public.

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