Beth Abraham’s Resident Gospel Choir celebrates 10th anniversary

Music therapist Tom McLelland and Reverend Jethro Wright, 95. Photo by Andrew Ulrich

Old age often brings the paradoxical nightmare of having such little time and such little to do. Without stimulation the body weakens and so can the spirit.

Such a fate is thankfully not suffered by the elderly members of Beth Abraham Health Service’s Resident Gospel Choir, who on Thursday, September 25, 2008 celebrated the group’s ten-year anniversary.

Wanting to shield seniors from the clutches of boredom, music therapist Tom McClelland founded the resident choir in 1998.

“It started simply with one patient who was an organist at her church. She and her roommate would ask me to sing songs to them. Soon, when their families would visit they would want to sing as well, and then the staff joined in, and pretty soon that floor formed a choir which eventually included the whole facility” McClelland said.

From its inception, the resident choir has brought a sense of camaraderie and community to Beth Abraham residents, as well as staff members.

“The role the choir played was that it gave residents and caregivers a common ground, or bridge, so there was no more feeling of ‘us’ and ‘them’” said facility director Connie Tomaino.

“Also, it gave some residents who just had nothing to do, and were languishing, a wonderful social outlet that lifted their moods” Tomaino added.

Although the stories of all Beth Abraham’s residents and choir members are in their own way compelling and unique one tale of revitalization through song and celebration is particularly heartening.

In 2003, then ninety–year old Reverend Jethro Wright came to Beth Abraham suffering from chronic rheumatoid arthritis and the recent amputation of his right leg. Now severely limited in movement, and naturally experiencing some feelings of despondency and disconsolation, Wright nevertheless resolved to spend his remaining time on this mortal coil not feeling sorry for himself, but rather living passionately and helping to uplift others. He found an immediate outlet for what he deemed, “the guiding hand of the holy spirit” in the resident gospel choir.

He says, “Though my body is old, my mind and spirit are still growing, and singing keeps all our minds attuned to positive things instead of being depressed or downcast.”

After ten years, the Beth Abraham resident gospel choir has touched and improved many lives, though it doesn’t intend to rest on its laurels. “The choir has been, and will remain, an opportunity for residents to strengthen themselves physical, mentally, and spiritually, while continuing to be active in our community” said Tom McClelland.

Nothing can stop the inevitable march of time, but the choir of Beth Abraham plans to follow that march with a smile on its face and a song in its heart.

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