Below is an excerpt from the book Experiences: Life in a Continuing Care Retirement Community, which is a compilation of essays and poetry written and published by residents of Kendal at Longwood.
“The Consecrated Cottage” by Bob and Betty Warner
I’ve always loved singing. For me, it is a spiritual experience, blending my bass voice with the sopranos and the altos to create a work of art that floats away in the air when done, leaving both singer and listener feeling connected with each other and the universe. After retirement, I was thrilled to participate in my local church choir, but as time approached for the Kendal phase in my life, I feared that my desire to sing would have no outlet.
As we explored residency at Kendal at Longwood, we came for a two-day “Try Us” experience. (Potential residents are invited to come and stay for three days to experience the community on a trial basis. We highly recommend that every prospective resident do so.) Amazingly enough, Kendal had a chorus! And it was rehearsing the day we visited! Excited and expectant, I joined their rehearsal. Kendal is a community of nearly 400 active and involved adults, so I was surprised to find only 20 or so residents at the rehearsal. These, mostly women ranging in age from ages 70 to over 100, were excited that a male bass singer might someday join them, and they welcomed me warmly. Under the guidance of choir director Sheila, they were doing well for their size and composition, but this choir would not meet my hopes for a challenging opportunity to develop and practice my singing skills. Ah, well, Kendal was still our best choice for a retirement community and perhaps I would find a choir nearby where I could sing.
Sooner than expected, we were offered an ideal cottage, sold our house and were living in a temporary cottage while ours was being renovated. Off I went to my first choir rehearsal and to my surprise and delight, now there were 70 of us in the Kendal Singers, including more basses—male basses. I was again warmly greeted, given my music, and settled into the back row of basses, just behind our neighbor-to-be Ian and between married couple Ellie and Merritt. The concert was to include 14 beautiful songs, varying in complexity, composition age and type. I resolved to learn them quickly, and rehearsed at our temporary home using my computer linked to YouTube for the music. I shared my YouTube links with Sheila and the choir. Many found them helpful.
In between rehearsal and settling in, we watched the progress of our cottage. Kendal had decided that the cottage would be totally redone, and had stripped it to the studs: new plumbing, new electrical, new HVAC. We considered ourselves incredibly lucky to move into a virtually new cottage, but our neighbors-to-be were suffering through the construction noise and traffic, including the deliveries of wallboard and appliances. Though the cottages were remarkably soundproof, the jarring, pounding sounds of hammers and saws permeate most walls. Ian shared with us one day that he had been startled in his bathroom by the chatter of the construction workers, who had torn down most of the wall and insulation between our bathrooms. We were all anxious for the work to be completed. It was to be ready the week before the concert.
The week before the concert also happened to be the date of a dessert party planned by Ian and his wife, Mary Alice. We were invited to join with several other choir members and Sheila (the choir director) for after-dinner cake and song. As it happened, Betty, my wife couldn’t attend the party; she was in New Jersey helping our daughter with our pre-school grandchildren. She missed more than the party.
We were a joyous and noisy group of singers as we walked together from dinner to Ian and Mary Alice’s cottage for cake: Ellie and Merritt, Sheila and her husband Hank, Bill and Gail and Ian. Passing our cottage, I offered to use the key I had just received to show the finished cottage. As we tumbled through the door together, we admired and exclaimed at how wonderful it looked, especially the open living room with the vaulted ceiling. Standing under the vaulted ceiling, Merritt commented upon how beautifully our voices were resonating. It turned out that the cottage, devoid of furniture, drapes and rugs, was acoustically live; it felt like being in a large shower or a small cathedral. Six of the group were members of the rounds singers, and all were involved with the Kendal Singers. In that perfect moment of joy and camaraderie, Merritt began singing the beautiful, sacred and well-known round “Dona Nobis Pacem”, which roughly translates to “Grant us peace”. The rest of us immediately joined in. With great glee, this crowd of celebrating singers touched the walls with their voices and thrilled at the reverberations.
“Grant us peace” echoes still in the walls of our cottage although curtains and furniture have ended the resonance of the song. The spirit of the hymn and of the fellowship will reverberate here throughout our stay. It was indeed a consecration of the cottage by friends with whom we had chosen to spend the remainder of our lives.