Last November, Susan Laushman had a decision to make.
As choir director at Pittsburg High School, she had just wrapped production of a concert that brought together about 30 “youngers” — high school students in grades nine through 12 — with about 30 “olders” — community members, the majority of whom are retirement age.
It was the first year for the multi-generational project, which Laushman conceived as part of her professional goals, and the first of its kind in the area.
By accounts from both young and old, it worked.
Her decision to try it again was a no-brainer.
With a concert slated for tonight, the choir members have been rehearsing together Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings since school began. Many say it’s the highlight of their day.
“I don’t get to see my grandparents; they’re far away. So this is like one big family for me,” said Tara Ehrheart, a high school senior, whose hand was the first to go up when the group was asked after a rehearsal last week to share reflections of the experience.
As Ehrheart spoke, a few members of the choir — and its director — wiped tears from their eyes.
Such reactions have been the topic of research after similar multi-generational projects began cropping up across the nation, from a charter school in Santa Cruz, Calif., to a senior center in Tallahassee, Fla.
In their book, “Young and Old Serving Together: Meeting Community Needs Through Intergenerational Partnerships,” Tess Scannell and Angelea Roberts of Generations United wrote:
“In a society where members of different generations are fragmented, separated, and isolated from one another, intergenerational programs can bridge the gap.”
Moriah Morgan, a high school junior, put it into simpler terms: “I think of this as a family, too. I don’t have much family. It kind of helps with that. You guys are my family,” she said, gesturing to the group.
The experience also has helped the younger girls improve their voices.
“Vocally, I’m already hearing more sound from the girls because they are singing with women who have a lifetime of experience, and the girls tell me that, too,” Laushman said. “If you pair a 14-year-old timid singer with a 60-year-old lifetime singer, the 14-year-old will be trying to match in projection level.”
But the benefits go beyond the music, Laushman said.
“It also gives both the girls and the community members something to look forward to,” she said. “The community group includes newly widowed women, retired women, and several of them have told me this is a bright spot in their day.”
One such woman is Shirley Kennedy. She said she had concerns last year before she arrived the first day, but was “very glad when the girls accepted us and enjoyed the same music we do.”
This year, Kennedy had a new observation: “I always feel better when I go home than I did when I came.”
Marilyn Peterson, a community member with grown children, said she worries about her student partner if she’s not in school.
“My mothering comes out, I guess,” she said.
As for Marilyn Bishop, the mother of PHS Principal Jon Bishop — himself a PHS graduate — she stops by his office every time she’s at school.
“Just to make sure he’s doing OK,” she explained.
“He stops in the choir room sometimes to check on me,” she said with a laugh.
Go and do
The group’s concert, featuring a light style of recognizable music, is slated for 7 p.m. today in the Pittsburg High School auditorium, 1978 E. Fourth St. The free concert will last about 45 minutes.