Meadowlark choir director seeks to make singing enjoyable

By Paul Harris

“Music touches a place in our minds that lets us almost be someone or somewhere else,” said Meadowlark Singers director Jane Boys.

Boys and nearly 30 singers put on the third and final show of their concert season this past week.

The singers primarily all live at Meadowlark Hills Retirement Community and range in age from early 70s to 96.

“We have one woman who is 100 who comes to all the rehearsals, but does not sing with us,” said Boys, who has been with the chorus for almost a decade.

Planning for the patriotic-themed concert started back in February, barely allowing time for the fluttering hearts from the Valentine’s Day concert to get back to a normal rhythm.

Every Monday, the group gathers in the community center and practices for an hour. And every Monday, Boys finds the energy to push her group members, many of whom lack confidence in their singing and performing abilities.

“Most of these people have backgrounds in singing and they thought they were done,” said Boys. “I just personally try to make it more fun.”

Instead of focusing on the details of singing, Boys encourages her students to focus on another seven-letter word that begins with s: smiling.

“If you’re having fun, the audience is having fun,” Boys reiterates. “They get so serious because they want to do it right. I tell them, ‘Let’s just have fun.’”

Her fun and freewheeling attitude has made coming to practice a highlight of the performers’ day.

Pat Miksch, who sang in church choirs her entire life and in a K-State a capella group, said she “always looks forward to choir practice.”

During the end-of-season concert, Miksch performed the closing number, “God Bless America,” a song that holds a special place in her heart.

“It was written in 1938, and in 1938 World War II was beginning,” Miksch said. “Having grown up with WWII, that era is very meaningful to me and that song has always been so meaningful to me.”

Miksch used her operatic soprano voice to lead the American classic. Soon audience members joined in to close out the piece and the season.

“It’s always great to end a program with audience participation,” Miksch said.

But that was not the only moment where audience members integrated themselves in the show.

Kinzie Jo Zimmerman sang an a capella version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Resident Curtis Smith started singing along.

While the rest of the audience sat silent, Smith went from mouthing the words to belting out a few notes of his own, as if to accompany Zimmerman on her musical journey.

Before bolting out of the auditorium with his walker, Smith said that performance was his favorite of the nearly 10-song set.  Other audience members responded to songs by throwing their arms in the air or tapping their feet.

“We all need to be taken out of our daily hum-drum every once in a while,” Boys said. “People let music do that. People will trust music rather than someone else.”

After Tuesday’s show, one woman approached the choral director and told her that she had no idea how much that concert meant to her.

To give people that escape, Boys has to prepare a play list she believes people will connect to.

Preparing the play list for each show is an inexact science for Boys.

“I start out with big piles of music and start sorting through it,” she said. “It just comes together in theme or (I find) a song that will lift us up as a group and get a message across to people.”

This year’s Memorial Day concert featured songs across the United States such as the “Yellow Rose of Texas,” “New York, New York,” and “Tennessee Waltz.”

Shortly after the show ended, Boys said she was already planning the next show, which is not until August. Despite the groans she might hear from her singers, Boys said they will be ready.

“I’ve gained their confidence over the years, and they will try anything I ask them to,” she said.

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