It’s been 40 years since the Shawnee Mission Women’s Chorale began with a group of friends who liked to get together for lunch and then sing with each other.
Joan Jaimes has been there since the beginning, and now she’s stepping down as the chorale’s leader. Della Crawford, the chorale’s longtime accompanist, also is retiring from her position.
Currently, no one has stepped up to fill Jaimes’ role as director, so she doesn’t know if the chorale will be able to continue.
The Spinoffs, a smaller group of about 12 singers from the chorale who sing with recorded accompaniment, will continue to perform.
The group gave its last performance with Jaimes and Crawford at the helm May 14 at the Town Village senior living facility in Leawood.
The venue is typical for the group, which has made its mission to entertainpeople who live in retirement homes and nursing homes. They have also given two concerts at Johnson County Community College over the years.
“My goal has always been to sing at a level I know these people deserve,” Jaimes said. “I have seen too many well-meaning groups come in and sing uninspiring folk tunes. (We sing) music this age of people can relate to.”
Most of their musical repertoire consists of pop songs from the 1940s and ’50s. Quality is important to Jaimes.
“We do not sing down to our audience. … I’ll fuss about a wrong note in rehearsal until we get it right,” she said.
Jaimes got the idea to bring the chorale to these places when she was training volunteers to be friendly visitors for people in nursing homes who had no family.
“Some of the best memories are when we have really touched someone,” Jaimes said.
She remembered a young woman in a Louisburg, Kan., nursing home who had been paralyzed. During the chorale’s performance, they saw her tapping a finger to the music — her first movement since she’d been there.
Both Jaimes and Crawford are retired music teachers who have volunteered for all these years to help run the chorale. Jaimes used to direct the church choir at Valley View United Methodist Church, where the group has rehearsed for years.
Although the group started out with church members, Jaimes decided to open up the chorale to the community. This season, the group has had about 40 members, but in previous years, it sometimes had as many as 55 women singing in its ranks.
At the beginning, a lot of the women who wanted to join the chorale had young children, so Jaimes arranged for babysitting every Tuesday morning during rehearsals and performances so the women could be part of the group. Now, the chorale’s members are mostly retirees.
Crawford joined in 1982 as an alto singer and became the group’s accompanist about 1993.
Being a good choral accompanist “isn’t just about knowing how to play the piano,” Jaimes said. “It’s knowing how to follow the director and the choir.”
The volunteer group has been self-supported, taking donations and membership dues to cover the costs of their sheet music.
Jaimes has welcomed people with all levels of singing ability into the chorale. Some couldn’t even read music when they started, but the other group members helped them learn.
“We had a good sense of humor. If we didn’t have some laughs during a rehearsal, it wasn’t a good rehearsal,” Jaimes said.
Both Jaimes and Crawford said they love the warm and caring atmosphere of the chorale.
“I like the friendships and the camaraderie,” said group member Jeanne Nunn. “It’s a learning experience for me.”
Crawford has fond memories of chatting with a friend who used to be her page-turner. Once, the piano at a venue was on wheels and parked on a highly polished floor. The piano kept sliding along as Crawford played, but “she never missed a beat,” said Jaimes.
Another time, they were performing outdoors, singing about birds, when a few real birds decided to leave their input on the performance.
Crawford “had some extra dotted notes” that day, Jaimes said.
Jaimes and Crawford chose to retire while they were still on top, Jaimes said.
“We’re going out with a bang,” she said.