When they were young, Josie Schmer, Gloria Gaynor and Ruth Bunch gathered around the radio to listen to music and radio shows.
Decades later, women are doing it again — together, this time.
Schmer, 85, Gaynor, 96, and Bunch, 82, live in the Stonecrest senior-living community in Woodbury. Twice a month, they gather for “Spirit Song Radio,” an old-fashioned radio show featuring music, goofy jokes and moaning sentences along with singing.
“It’s been such a blessing to me,” said Schmer, who moved to Stonecrest in 2017. “It’s just so relaxing, and it helps you get in touch with the world. I love to sing. My sister and I used to sing. My parents used to sing. It’s great to have music on the radio. I love it.” Always have to listen.”
Spirit Song Radio is the brainchild of Spirit Song Choir, a worldwide and inter-generational community choir based in Woodbury. Choir president and music director Mary Riemann said the 85 members ranged in age from 8 to 84 and sing a “mix of sacred and secular music – music that lifts the soul”.
Riemann founded the choir in late 2019 to bring song and community to senior-living communities such as Stonecrest, St Therese Senior Living of Woodbury and Woodbury Senior Living.
“We were in a groove, learning new music, realizing there was a call for what we did and building relationships with three different senior communities,” Riemann said. “We were not only forming a choir, but we were, in fact, building this beautiful community.”
Then COVID hit and “everyone was feeling isolated and scared, and we realized that everything in life had changed,” she said.
A chance conversation with her sister inspired Riemann to explore a new technique—something Riemann typically detests, she said.
“She said, ‘Well, you should try Zoom,’ and I said, ‘I don’t know what Zoom is.’ It was March 2020,” Riemann said. “He explained this to me and said, ‘This is for meetings, but I wonder if you can figure out a way to rehearse using it.'”
Within a week, the Spirit Song Choir was almost gathering for its first Zoom rehearsal. The choir also began to lead virtual recitals on Facebook.
But Riemann quickly realized that the choir’s main fan base, its seniors living in local high-living communities, was not on Facebook. “We were reaching out to other people that way, but not to this community,” she said.
It was Renee Vaughn, director of Life Promotion and Volunteer Services at Stonecrest, who suggested using a low-wattage FM transmitter to broadcast the choir’s renditions to residents.
“I found a low-powered FM transmitter in my basement and hooked it up,” Vaughan said. “We played bingo, and the transmitter had to be smack dub in the middle of the building[to reach everyone]. I had to call numbers from there, and then people would call on the phone saying ‘I got a Got Bingo!’ And then we would have the bus driver, who was not driving the bus at that time, we would have asked him to drive the candy bar to the people.”
Other Stonecrest broadcasts include: meditation sessions; story time; bird of the day; And “Sports Talk — aka, the Minnesota Vikings Emotional Support Group,” Vaughan said. “We had great courses, COVID updates etc all over the radio. Good time that I’m glad is over.”
a show is born
When members of the Spirit Song Choir arrived to see what they could do to help, Vaughan asked if they would record songs that she could play on the radio.
WSSR, or “Spirit Song Radio” was born.
“You can walk down the hallway covered in PPE covered head-to-toe, and you can hear people in their apartments listening to the radio, and you can hear a voice in the apartments singing loudly, but you can hear them in the background. You can listen to radio shows. playing,” said Vaughan. “It gave the sense, yes, we’re alone, but we’re not alone; we were all there together. That’s when I heard the music in the hallway again, a communal feel of music, that’s when I had my first sense of normalcy, ‘We’re going to get through this’ was my first feeling. Nothing can connect people the way music can.”
Riemann said: “There’s something about the simple, human act of singing together. It’s healing and transformative.”
The members of the choir produce a new sing-along radio show every two weeks. He has written and recorded 31 so far.
Each episode begins with a theme—usually tied to an upcoming season or holiday—and a selection of songs to match. Songs included in the episode “Road Trip” aired at Stonecrest Tuesday: “On the Road Again,” “Country Road” and “This Land Is Your Land.”
Volunteer screenwriters put together an introduction to each song, making sure to include corny jokes and a healthy dose of pun, Riemann said.
The group, which includes characters such as Parking Patrol Peg, Chatty Sisters, Anonymous Interruptus and Cliff the Mailman by Day and Farmer Every Other Day of the Year, recorded dialogue together on Zoom.
During a recent show on gardening, Parking Patrol Peg, played by choir member Peg Regrath, explained that gardening was his “favourite hobby, next to camp”.
“I wanted to be a horticulturist before going into law,” Regrath said.
“Why not?” Ann asked Kysely.
“Because I wouldn’t make enough money, because celery was too low,” Regrath said.
Each show begins with choir member Tom Waller’s loud voice: “Welcome to WSSR, otherwise known as “Spirit Song Radio”, where our music is playing, and our listeners are singing. . I am Tom V.”
Songs are recorded separately by each choir member using the Voice Memos app on their cell phones. Voices are mixed together in the GarageBand recording app “so it’s as if everyone is singing together in the same room,” Riemann said.
Anyone can listen to the shows by clicking on the SoundCloud link on the choir’s website, but Stonecrest airs them at a set time each week.
Riemann, who spent more than 30 years working as the church’s music director, said she never dreamed she would one day produce an old-fashioned radio show.
“Not in a million years,” she said. “It’s really been a pleasant surprise — the way we work, the writing process and the recording process. I’m so grateful for that technology because we’ve been able to meet and build community and interact and share stories.” We laugh a lot in recording sessions when things go off track. The creative outlet has been really great. It’s a really beautiful community of kind and generous people who share their time, their time, to create something beautiful together. Gifted and ready to share their hearts – sending love into the world in the shape of a song.”
Schmer said she loves listening to the broadcast to residents at Stonecrest’s memory-care unit.
“Those old-time songs come back to him,” she said. “They are able to sing loud and clear. I am so glad that COVID is over. We survived, and we are going to move on.”
Soul Song Choir Concert
- what: “This Is Our Song of Peace” Concert of Soul Song Choir
- When: 3 p.m. Sunday May 15
- Where: King of Kings Lutheran Church, 1583 Radio Drive, Woodbury
- cost: The concert is free; A free offer will be made to benefit Ukrainian relief through ELCA’s Eastern European Crisis Response.
- covid protocol: Mask is required.
- Website: https://spiritsongchoir.org/