BY TOM LAVIS
Music has been a big part of Isabell D’Arcangelo’s life.
The Windber woman has been a piano and organ teacher for 30 years, and she is a founding member of the chorus at Windber’s Center for Life, located in Windber Medical Center.
“We started about five years ago with only three members,” D’Arcangelo said.
She also served as organist at St. Anthony of Padua Roman Catholic Church in Windber, where she coaxed several choir members to join the senior chorus.
“We have grown to over 30 members, and although many members don’t read music, we are having a great time while entertaining others,” she said.
The group sings year-round, performing at many of the center’s gatherings as well as going to nursing homes and churches.
It also performs at other special occasions.
Sometimes members car pool when they sing away from the center, and some travel by Koot Karts. The transportation is no reflection on the age of chorus members. The vans were donated to Tableland Services Inc. by the John and Ann Koot Memorial Fund.
“We have performed for as few as 18 people at a nursing home to more than 100 people when we performed in December for a group of retired nurses who gathered at Sunnehanna Country Club in Westmont,” D’Arcangelo said.
She plays piano for the chorus, which is directed by her sister, Joanne Ursino of Windber.
D’Arcangelo laughed when asked if hopefuls had to audition to become a member of the chorus.
“Did you ever hear us sing?” she quipped. “Anyone interested in joining just has to show up at one of our rehearsals.”
The Center for Life chorus rehearses at 9:30 a.m. every Friday at the center, located at 700 Fifth St., Suite 200.
The chorus is open to all area residents of any age who have an interest in singing.
Members, both men and women, range in ages from their 30s to their 80s.
Of the 30-some members, five are male.
“We could always use more men, which would enable us to enhance our harmonies,” D’Arcangelo said. “When we first started, we were enthusiastic and loud, and now we are trying to fine-tune our arrangements.”
Eleanor Pile, the center’s senior services director, said participants in any activity need not be from Somerset County.
“We have no minimums when it comes to age or resident requirements to take advantage of our services,” Pile said.
Mike Pascovich, 82, of Windber, a retired electrical supervisor for Bethlehem Steel Corp., is another founding member of the chorus.
“I hadn’t sung in a group since singing with my church choir as a youth,” Pascovich said. “But being part of the chorus sounded like fun.”
Not being able to read music hasn’t been a problem for him.
“Isabel and her sister, Joanne, are great leaders and make us feel comfortable,” he said. “It’s surprising how fast you can recognize the notes once you have sung for a while.”
Pascovich said he enjoys the rehearsals as much as the performances.
“We have great participation,” he said. “After rehearsals, a few of us generally stick around, have coffee and talk.”
The chorus’ song selections are often lighthearted and uplifting, including show tunes.
The chorus makes it a practice to interact with its audience.
One of the best ways to do that is to have the audience sing along.
“We do songs like ‘(How Much is That) Doggie in the Window?’ but usually finish the performance with ‘God Bless America,’ which everyone knows,” D’Arcangelo said.
Many of the performances around the holidays are performed at the senior center.
“We are already thinking about our Easter concert,” she said. “We will be doing songs such as ‘Here Comes Peter Cottontail’ and ‘Easter Parade.’ ”
D’Arcangelo said it’s a joy to see the smiles on people’s faces when the chorus performs.
“There are times when we are performing at a nursing home when some people will fall asleep, but we just keep going,” D’Arcangelo said.
The chorus does not have formal concert attire, but members usually wear matching shirts and slacks.
“Our shirts have a Center For Life logo, and we choose either white or black pants,” D’Arcangelo said.
The chorus often performs with the center’s tap dancers, most of whom are also chorus members.
There have been instances when some people or organizations have made donations to the group following a performance.
“Any donations we receive are given to the center to help with various expenses,” D’Arcangelo said.
She couldn’t think of a more appropriate activity to bring joy to people.
“Music makes a happy heart,” D’Arcangelo said.
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