Last month, the Ardenwoods Singers put on an explosively entertaining patriotic performance attended by more than 100 residents and their friends and families. Just in time for Independence Day, “Red, Blue and Broadway Too” brought star-spangled musical favorites to the community on Thursday, July 6, with the help of just over 30 talented residents.
Led by director Shirley Morrow, the Ardenwoods Singers is a choral group made up of residents “who just love to sing and have a good time,” Shirley explained. Created in 2014, the group puts on two programs per year — one usually in summer and the other during the December holidays — for which they practice once a week “to learn the music together and have a good time while doing it.”
Shirley, whose background is in musical education, began cooking up this July’s performance at the start of the year, and rehearsals for the summer program began in February.
“We usually have what we call a ‘Back to Rehearsal Party’ and spend some time in the Grille talking about what the program will be,” Shirley said. “Then we practice once a week, on Thursday afternoons, until the show, with a dress rehearsal the day before with all the musicians and other performers.”
Sometimes, especially early on, “there are always a few people who think: ‘Oh, we’ll never get this right,’” Shirley continued. “But it always comes together. It’s never perfect — but the audience would never know it — and it sure is fun.”
Each show not only features the vivacious vocals of the Ardenwoods Singers, but also the talents of other residents and friends of the community. July’s “Red, Blue and Broadway Too” brought in The Salt and Pepper Shakers, a group from Ardenwoods’ Monday line dance class, which prepared a dance to go along with Shirley’s vision for the show.
The performance also included a piece of choreography from dance instructor Kem Overby and resident Janet Mitchell; musical accompaniment from pianist Melody Cooper, trumpet player Bill Ross and drummer Joey Moore; five veteran residents, who presented their service flags during the medley; and a resident quartet to end the show on a lovely note.
“I try to include music that people love to hear and sing along to,” Shirley said. “People enjoy participating, and we gave them all their own little flags to wave. Even if they think they can’t sing anymore, they always enjoy singing with the audience in a group like that.”
As guests arrived for the show, they were greeted with patriotic pageantry, with pops of red, white and blue all over the dining hall — and fun photo opportunities like face-frame cutouts of Uncle Sam and the Statue of Liberty. During the main event, the singers performed hits like “Yankee Doodle,” “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” a medley of Irving Berlin songs, “Give My Regards to Broadway,” and “Fifty Nifty United States,” during which singers and other participants were given cardboard cutouts of all 50 states to hold up when each was named in the song.
“I was really pleased with the way it all went,” Shirley said. “And we all loved the trumpet [during the] Battle Hymn of the Republic. We did the Wilhousky arrangement, which is not easy — especially for a small group. It was a challenge, but it turned out nice. It was really special.”
One month later, Shirley is already beginning the planning process for this winter’s holiday spectacular from the Ardenwoods Singers, though she’s still ironing out the details and theme.
“We just keep on doing what we’re doing,” Shirley said. And to dispel any hearsay, she added: “Someone told me that they heard July’s program was the last one I was going to do. I don’t know where that rumor got started. I just had my 90th birthday, but I’m not quitting until the Lord tells me to quit. That’s just who I am. I love singing, I love to direct, I love to get people involved — and as long as I can do that, I will.”
Check out the performance of the Ardenwoods Singers.