Preparations to mark His Majesty the King’s coronation this spring are well underway, and for a special celebration at their Didsbury home, older people residing at Belong Morris Feinmann care village are busy rehearsing for their performance of a lifetime – with a little help from Manchester choir master extraordinaire, Dan McDwyer.
Newly formed last month, The Tomforte Community Choir meets weekly to practise their harmonies ahead of the royal event on May 6th which will see the ensemble, many of whom are living with dementia, perform for fellow residents, family and friends as part of the coronation festivities programme.
The dementia specialist enlisted the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM) alumnus after being inspired by his work with Ariana Grande, Emeli Sandé and Katherine Jenkins, along with musical direction of thriving community projects focusing on singing for mental health and wellbeing: Manchester Proud Chorus, Altrincham Garrick Show Choir, and The Choir Project – Northenden Choir.
Angela Luckett, religious and cultural coordinator at Belong Morris Feinmann, shares more: “I think our customers are the most engaged I’ve ever seen. Many may not recall the previous week’s rehearsal but when they come, everything just clicks; they remember what we’re doing, the words and the melodies. Thanks to our new best friend, Dan, dementia leaves the room for an hour – it’s remarkable.”
In addition to the pleasure of companionship earned from the gatherings, the workshops benefit cognitive ability, having been designed to challenge the participants gently. Dividing them into subgroups to sing their own ‘rounds’ simultaneously, for example, requires much concentration at the individual level.
Dan McDwyer, musical director of The Tomforte Community Choir, explains: “This goes further than a sing-along: we’re creating a choir who are performers. By using less-familiar songs, our singers have really got to work hard and actively use their brains to learn new melodies to make a beautiful sound, rather than simply repeating songs they already know.
“Though most have little or no experience, we wanted to give all residents the chance and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the quality of their work. People take joy from the sound they create together and that makes them proud, walking away knowing they’ve produced something special.”
Made possible by Tom Einstein and named in his memory, the choir aspires to continue his legacy by singing forte, meaning ‘loud’ in musical instruction, and also giving rise to the choir’s name.
Tom’s father was one of the founding members of the original Morris Feinmann Home, set-up at the end of World War II to support Jewish refugees settling in Manchester. Today, a state-of-the-art village on the former Palatine Road site is operated by the not-for-profit care provider to continue its support primarily for the Jewish community.
Elaine Newman, Tom’s long-term partner, adds: “At the end of each session, everyone leaves with a sense of achievement, of joy and lifted spirits. Tom always had a smile on his face and he would have been delighted with the project. We’re very grateful to Dan for imparting his talent, charisma and an exuberance which impresses wholeheartedly on the singers.”