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Salisbury Singers join the conversation in 'Alzheimer's Reflection' concert

Richard Duckett Telegram & Gazette

WORCESTER - Bradford T. Dumont has seen that there can be a darkness or void in terms of conversations about Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia because meaningful dialogue often doesn't seem to be encouraged.

"It's something we never talk about publicly. There's a stigma," said Dumont, music director of the Salisbury Singers.

Both of Dumont's grandmothers suffered from dementia. But when he talked about his experiences to members of the Salisbury Singers he was surprised by how many chorus members started to open up with their own stories.

As music director of the chorus, "I'm always interested in telling stories that speak to our communities," Dumont said about concert programing. The more he talked about dementia, "the more I found how prevalent it was."

Alzheimer's Awareness Month November is Alzheimer's Awareness Month, and the conversation will include the Salisbury Singers as the chorus opens its 49th season with "Light Shines in the Darkness: Alzheimer’s Reflection" at 4 p.m. Nov. 6 in Wesley United Methodist Church, 114 Main St., Worcester. The program will include a variety of works such as the title piece, contemporary American composer Michael John Trotta’s 2017 "Light Shines in the Darkness" consisting of settings of different texts with the overriding message of “you will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

A representative of the Alzheimer's Foundation of America will speak at the concert, and in between musical selections members of the Salisbury Singers will share stories about loved ones or friends with dementia.

"This is something we must talk about," Dumont said.

He hopes the concert will help people to talk about the subject "honestly and to try and find a path forward."

Dumont said one of his grandmother's had Alzheimer's disease and lived with his family. His other grandmother had a different but still devastating kind of dementia.

"For me having grown up having cared for both of these grandmothers and seeing them at a young age, I know the impact this disease can have on a family," Dumont said.

But in terms of a concert, "I didn't want this to be about me."

It turns out that many members of the Salisbury Singers have been impacted by dementia. A number of chorus members participated in the annual Worcester County Walk to End Alzheimer's in October. They have loved ones or relatives suffering from the disease and in some cases are caring for them.

Stories shared by members "A singer shared with me that he's starting to care for his wife," Dumont said. Another singer "self-identified to me as (being) diagnosed with very early onset (Alzheimer's)." The week Dumont was being interviewed, a former member of the Salisbury Singers died of complications from dementia.

"Light Shines in the Dark: Alzheimer’s Reflection" does not feature music written directly about Alzheimer's per se but the works can be seen through the lens of the disease in the concert, Dumont said.

One piece is an arrangement of Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A-Changin'."

Four Quartets by Brahms deal with romantic subjects such as night, autumn, longing and love, but "in the context of an Alzheimer's concert gives them a whole new meaning and life," Dumont said.

Another piece celebrates "Who you are - that's the tone I want to set, that we can celebrate who we are," he said.

The Salisbury Singers will soon be celebrating 50 years. The chorus was founded by late Malama Robbins Collinsworth, who got them up and running to immediate acclaim in 1973-74.

Michelle Graveline was artistic director from 1999 until retiring at the end of the 2019-20 season - which was curtailed at the end because of the pandemic. Graveline's farewell concert was finally held Nov. 7 last year in Mechanics Hall, a fine occasion that included Worcester Mayor Joseph M. Petty giving Graveline the key to the city.

Meanwhile, Dumont succeeded Graveline in 2020, first with the title of music director before being named artistic director last spring. He has been involved with the Salisbury Singers since 2017 and his previous titles have included assistant conductor and associate conductor. Dumont's other affiliations include director of Choral Activities at Assumption University, director of music at First Parish Church of Stow & Acton, U.U., special projects manager with Emmanuel Music in Boston, and board chair of the Greater Boston Choral Consortium.

The difference between artistic director and music director at the Salisbury Singers "is really a point of status recognition," Dumont said. The job descriptions are very similar, although being artistic director recognizes having "the wider vision of the organization." But no matter how you define things, "It's fun to be with a group that has this level of commitment," he said of the the chorus.

Dumont guided the Salisbury Singers through lockdown and online rehearsals. Last season began with Graveline's farewell. "It was a great way to recognize her and a great way to keep building," Dumont said. The season also included holiday outreach and a program of carols in December at St. Cecilia Church in Leominster; a program "Heavenly Hurt / Gloria" with Vivaldi's "Gloria" at Trinity Lutheran Church, Worcester, and St. Cecelia's in Leominster; and "Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight: Reflections of the 'Great War'" at Assumption University.

50th season celebration Besides "Light Shines in the Dark," this season will include three holiday concerts; a concert featuring the Salisbury Singers with Assumption University Chorale in March 2023 (date and location TBD); and "To the Barbershop! A Celebration" in May 2023, (date and location TBD).

Dumont said "To The Barbershop!" closes 2022-23 but also kicks off the 50th season celebrations with a special concert featuring the Salisbury Singers and a professional barbershop quartet, “The Daily Special."

Without revealing any more details at this point, the 50th season will include more collaborations, holiday events and storytelling, he said.

Chorus membership is currently about 50 singers, a little smaller than pre-pandemic times. Rehearsals are Monday nights at Trinity Lutheran Church in Worcester.

"We're always recruiting and welcoming new members," Dumont said.

He is currently inviting singers from around the city and beyond to join the Salisbury Singers for its holiday concerts, no strings attached.

The Salisbury Singers holiday schedule includes a Holiday Pops concert in Clinton, Dec. 3; The Massachusetts Symphony Orchestra's Holiday Pops concert in Mechanics Hall Dec. 10; and its annual holiday concert at the Worcester Art Museum Dec. 18.

"They're gonna be really fun," Dumont said.

Singers are invited to commit to two out of three concerts and to three out of four rehearsals in November.

"We thought, what would happen if we threw the doors open. It's a time of year when people want to get out and sing," Dumont said.

For more information about the Salisbury Singers, visit 'Light Shines in the Darkness: Alzheimer’s Reflection'

When: 4 p.m. Nov. 6 Where: Wesley United Methodist Church, 114 Main St., Worcester How much: $25; $20 seniors; $12 students.

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