Benicia’s Jeanie Brown has had many music fans over the years, but these days her biggest fan is her uncle Kent. Kent accompanies her to Brookdale senior assisted living facilities in Vallejo—where Browns’ choir, the Carquinez Choraliers, entertains and brightens the lives of Benicia and Vallejo seniors—with songs from Broadway shows, movies and tunes from bygone eras. Through her uncle she has come to see each one in the audience as someone special. “I look out and realize that attendees are somebody’s grandpa, grandma, uncle, aunt, mom and dad. We’re not just singing for strangers. We’re singing for someone’s loved one and people who need a little joy in their world,” said Brown, the choir’s founding director. Each concert is free.
Music as a Gift
Those who sing in the Carquinez Choraliers have a common focus of using music as a gift, as a way to brighten up the world and help people who need a lift. Not all the members of her choir are seniors, but are all over the age of 50. Brown said music is not the only art form used for therapeutic purposes. “There’s joy that comes from any of the arts—theater, art or music. It can be very healing and very stabilizing for people,” she said. The smiles and looks of contentment on faces as they listen to songs is payment enough. “It’s so enriching. These people don’t have too many bright, sunny days. Then you see the smiles that burst out when we do Somewhere Over The Rainbow. The music brings up memories for them. In some of these places, they don’t feel so well, and this brings them a little joy and sunshine.”
The Carquinez Choraliers came about after Brown retired from a long career teaching music in Contra Costa County schools. She got involved with numerous community choirs and decided to launch one of her own. She and a friend came up with the idea to go into senior living facilities, homeless shelters, churches and other spots and sing for free. Founded last year, the group began with Christmas caroling at Benicia Main Street’s annual downtown Holiday Open House. Then they branched out with a new set of songs from That’s Entertainment! They now sing in churches, homeless lunch sites in Vallejo, and Benicia’s Casa de Vilarrasa. Brown said she heartened to learn residents in the Benicia facility, some who can’t get down to the lobby, open up their windows so they can hear the singing. She takes her uncle Kent along to the two Brookdale assisted living complexes in Vallejo.
The Carquinez Choraliers is part of Brown’s long love affair with music, which includes piano lessons at age 4, playing the organ at her father’s church, performing and playing the clarinet in marching bands in high school and college and then teaching music for more than 35 years. She plays many instruments and also offers music lessons. Singing in a choir has been a constant. “I always have a choir, somewhere,” she said. After a summer break, the Carquinez Choraliers will start up again in September. Brown said more people are welcome to join in. She is looking for singers, dancers, instrumentalists and theater lovers. The group meets 7-9pm Thursdays in her Benicia home. For additional information, call 707.745.4219 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.