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Ensemble of note

Riversong members practice May 23 in Spokane’s Riverview Retirement Community. Most of the members, who range in age from mid-60s to late 80s, live in the retirement community, but a third are recruited from the community. (Colin Mulvany)
Riversong members practice May 23 in Spokane’s Riverview Retirement Community. Most of the members, who range in age from mid-60s to late 80s, live in the retirement community, but a third are recruited from the community. (Colin Mulvany)

Riversong group breaks stereotypes, ages with song

Bob Moylan, manager of the choral ensemble Riversong – an outreach program of Spokane’s Riverview Retirement Community – knows all the stereotypes.

“What we are fighting here is the image of old folks warbling ‘Carry Me Back to Old Virginia,’ ” Moylan said.

You won’t hear that song Thursday if you attend the ensemble’s free spring concerts, but you will hear songs that include phrases in five languages other than English.

Moylan, a retired Lutheran pastor and college administrator, and his wife, Patricia, a lifelong music teacher who directs the ensemble, started the group in 2007 in their Riverview condo along with 10 other singers and musicians.

Now the group, numbering more than two dozen, busts stereotypes and role-models healthy aging practices.

They set the bar high

The aging brain can rise to challenges, but individuals and society often expect less of older people who then feel OK to deliver less.

Not for Riversong members. The singers must know how to read music. They learn 10 to 12 songs for each fall and spring season.

“If we only did easy music, some of them would quit,” said Patricia Moylan, chorus master.

They challenge themselves physically

Use it or lose it is not just a cliché for older people. It’s a mandate for healthy aging. Although some ensemble members have serious health issues, such as Parkinson’s, they still stand when they sing. They sway with the music. They travel to concerts throughout the region. They exercise their vocal cords.

“When you get old, your voice tends to warble. You have to learn to control it. If you have 60 people warbling, it sounds like mush,” Bob Moylan, 78, said.

They socialize

Regular socialization in older age protects against dementia, depression, and it can increase longevity. Riversong members practice every Wednesday, with breaks only in the summer and during the winter holidays. They meet new people when they give their concerts throughout the Inland Northwest.

“They have fun, they don’t just work,” Bob Moylan said. “If you come in timid, you won’t leave that way.”

They have a sense of purpose

Aging experts say older people who feel they contribute to society suffer with fewer physical and emotional problems.

Ensemble members are committed to each other, to the group. And they also exemplify excellence and independence.

When they sing at other retirement communities, people approach the Moylans and say they wish they could start a similar group. Bob Moylan tells them: “You can.”

Patricia Moylan, 75, said: “You can just sit back and let death come slowly.” Or, she tells people, you can live life more fully and use your brain, lungs and spirit.

That’s the Riversong way. The choral ensemble welcomes community members to see for themselves at the free concerts Thursday.



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