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Chimes choir counts on teamwork
Music activity sharpening minds
chimes 8 WEB
Janet Cooper hits a note Wednesday at the Forsyth County Senior Center. - photo by Jim Dean
For nearly one year, a small but growing group of senior citizens has been learning a new language.

“They come and learn the language of music,” said Jane Marton, who directs the chimes choir at the Forsyth County Senior Center.

“They have to learn how to count, they have to learn when their notes are appearing in the score ... and they make beautiful music.”

Every choir member is responsible for one or two hand chimes, each representing part of a musical scale. Every time their respective note appears on the sheet music, that member chimes in.

“It’s the best teamwork music activity,” Marton said. “Because in [band or choir] you have a line of music to sing or play, but in this you’re part of the line of music. You are like two of the fingers on a piano player, so it’s different from anything I’ve ever done musically.”

While some players are former musicians, many have never read sheet music before, Marton said. They start by marking their music with different colors representing each of the notes they are responsible for playing. Over time, they become familiar with musical notes and timing without the color coding.

When she’s not working with the senior group, Marton conducts a three-octave bell choir at her church, Deer Creek Shores Presbyterian.

When she joined the church, Marton said, there were three octaves of handbells, but no choir, director or “anything going on.”

“So I thought, ‘Well this would never do.’ All I wanted to do was play. But I knew how to direct, so we got the bells started at the church.”

The senior center’s chimes program began with the Sunshine Club, for seniors with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Instead of reading music, Marton would point to a person to play the next note.

“It requires them to concentrate so they know for sure when I’m going to point to them, so they have to be attentive,” she said.

It takes full participation from each member to create a fluid song, Marton said.

Chris Luttrell, center team leader for activities, wellness and leisure, described the chimes choir as “brain fitness.”
“It’s keeping your mind active, and is also very good [for] improving your fine motor skills, because they’re using hand chimes,” she said.  “It’s a memory thing for seniors, and Jane is in tune to picking out songs that everybody knows.”

The Sunshine Club plays does not perform publicly. The chimes choir, however, has played for a talent show and a caregivers’ reception. Marton hopes this year it can tour the community, playing at various nursing homes.

Marton learned about Alzheimer’s from her mother, who she said was touched by music even after the disease left her “unable to speak or respond in a normal way.”

“I’ve found that sometimes music is something that is retained a lot longer than even language,” Marton said. “I think any time you use music ... it’s wonderful.”

E-mail Jennifer Sami at