Summit of Older Adult Choirs Uplifted Crowds at the Herbst Theater

By Judy Goddess

“I came away with such a high. I wish there was something like this [older adult choir program] where I live”
— Audience member

View photos from the Summit of Older Adult Choirs

Joyful is the simplest and most accurate way to describe the recent Community Music Center Summit of Older Adult Choirs at the Herbst Theatre on January 27. The near 200 singers, their directors, accompanists, and guest artists all beamed with happiness that day. An eager audience of family and friends responded in-kind, enthusiastically applauding after each number.

Before the theater doors opened, hundreds of people waited in the crowded entry hall, greeting friends and gathering information on programs and services for older adults from a rich array of agencies that had partnered with CMC for this event. By start time, all 900 of the Herbst Theatre seats had been filled.

The Summit of Older Adult Choirs brought together CMC’s choirs for older adults with choirs created in the last several years under a three-way partnership between CMC, UCSF, and the San Francisco Department of Aging and Adult Services. The Community of Voices study (COV), funded by the National Institute on Aging, is researching the impact of singing in a choir on the health of older adults. As the COV choirs cycle out of that study, CMC – which has long recognized the healing value of music in the lives of older adults – has sought funding to continue and expand these choirs. Grants from the Aroha Philanthropies, the Myrtle V. Fitschen Charitable Trust, and, as well as support from individual donors and volunteers, enabled CMC to realize this commitment. Today, seven choirs are hosted by senior centers and community organization in five San Francisco neighborhoods – the Richmond, Ingleside, Mission, Western Addition, and the Bayview. Membership in the choirs remains free and open for adults ages 55 and older.

The program started with brief introductions by Sylvia Sherman, CMC Program Director, and Shireen McSpadden, Interim Executive Director of the Department of Aging and Adult Services, and touched on the theme of the day: the joy of music. Referencing the choir participants from across San Francisco, Sherman remarked that the joy of music knows no age limits and the power of singing carries across neighborhood, community culture and economic background. McSpadden spoke with pride about the choir program that takes place at senior centers affiliated with the Department of Aging and Adult Services and told the choir members and the audience “I want to share your joy today.”

After the opening remarks the choirs from the Richmond and OMI (Ocean View, Merced Heights, and Ingleside) Senior Centers took the stage. Directed by Beth Wilmurt and accompanied by Richard Daquioag on the piano, the two choirs performed Blue Monk by Thelonius Monk, Come Away by E.Z. Levin, and Those Were The Days by Boris Fomin.

Next on were the gospel choirs from the Western Addition Senior Center and Bayview’s Dr. Davis Senior Center. Co-Directed by Maestro Curtis and Nola Curtis, and accompanied by Maestro on piano and guest artists on strings, drums, and trumpet, the choir sang You’ll Never Walk Alone by Rogers and Hammerstein. Special guest Dorothy Morrison then led the choirs in the 18th century hymn, Oh, Happy Day.

Directed by Martha Rodriguez Salazar, and accompanied by Jennifer Peringer and guest artists, the CMC Mission District older adult choirs – Coro Solera from Mission Neighborhood Center, Coro de la 30 from 30th Street Senior Center, and the Coro del Centro Latino de San Francisco from Centro Latino de SF – then took the stage, performing three songs in Spanish: Cancion Mixteca by Jose Lopez Alaves, La Martiniana by Andres Henestrosa, and El Bodeguero by Richard Egues.

The final portion of the concert brought all the performers – the choirs, directors and accompanists – to the stage for lively renditions of Sh-Boom by The Chords, This Little Light of Mine by Harry Dixon Loes, and El Cumbanchero by Rafael Hernandez.

The concert ended with a standing ovation from the audience. As the audience left the Theatre, one exhilarated member, carrying a bouquet for his mother, exclaimed, “They all deserve a bouquet.” The crowd around him agreed.


“I was walking on cloud nine for days after the Summit, telling everyone about it – the energy, the inspiration, the beauty of the voices and older adults gathered.” – Audience member and Community of Voices Choir Director, Helen Dilworth

“For me, a ‘first timer on stage’ it was a lot of fun. I felt “mimada” (spoiled) by all who helped us.”
– Centro Latino choir member

“I am just beaming with pride and joy! This is such a testament to what the choirs do for people. Great job!!!”
– Valorie Villela (30th Street Senior Center, Director)

“Congratulations and thank you so much for letting us be part of such a beautiful event! (I must admit I shed a few tears.)”
– Valerie (Pollo Campero, sponsoring organization)

“Congratulations to everyone involved. The Choir Summit was fabulously successful AND inspirational! I had the good fortune of sitting in the 2nd row so could see close-up the smiles, how very happy all the singers were. It was great too that all the choirs worked so well together. The magic of music!”
– Linda Murley (Richmond Senior Center, Director)

“Packing the house like that is the envy of many local arts organizations, but the joy that filled the hall was what made the afternoon truly special. I think my favorite moment was the end of the concert, when all 200 singers came together, singing with gusto ALL the different styles of music from the wonderful variety of communities we are so fortunate to have here in San Francisco. The joy and pleasure just beamed out.”
– Martha Westland (SF Bach Choir, Managing Director)

“As a proud co-sponsor, we want to let others know about this wonderful experience. Cheers, and congratulations on producing this marvelous event.”
– Caitlin Morgan (Institute on Aging)

“I was walking on cloud nine for days after the Summit, telling everyone about it – the energy, the inspiration, the beauty of the voices and older adults gathered.” – Audience member and Community of Voices Choir Director, Helen Dilworth

“Thank you so much for the community choir concert – wondrous… I just want you to use your influence with UCSF to get the federal government to offer this program all over the USA – Senior Centers, etc. It is invaluable to health and welfare and good to employ wonderful people in the arts! My partner said I wish it was in Bedford, PA. My mother loves to sing! Thank you so much for all you do for our city!”
– Audience member

“As I was leaving a patron said to me ‘did you notice, there were NO programs on the floor, people were taking them home’.”
– Volunteer