Karen Silverman

PALM HARBOR — The pandemic has upset the lives of many Americans, forcing them to change their daily routines and even the way they live their lives in ways they never imagined.

The same can be said for Karen Silverman of Palm Harbor. But as the virus changed her life, it also opened up experiences that added many new moments of enjoyment.

When the former speech pathologist for Pinellas County Schools found her world shrinking in early 2020, she began to attend birthday parties and her book club meetings remotely through Zoom. One day during the summer she discovered Encore Creativity for Older Adults, which resulted in her singing with a chorale of hundreds of people in a virtual Christmas concert.

Silverman had sung throughout her life, throughout high school and into college. She sang around the house and listened to music all day. She even used music to give language lessons to autistic children. But singing in a group, in public, with hundreds of people, didn’t seem a possibility at that moment.

That changed when Silverman discovered Encore. The nonprofit organization, which calls itself the nation’s largest choral organization for adults 55 and older, engages adults through online music programs touching on music history, theory, and voice.

All classes are online and available anytime. “I found myself trying to listen to all of the classes as much as I can,” she said.

Videos offered training on how to record a singer’s progress, and insight.

“You think you sound one way, and then when you record your voice it sounds totally different, you know,” she said. “I would just keep recording and recording until I got to the way I wanted it to be. When I first recorded, I just sounded just so weak, but I thought I would be hearing myself being a strong singer.”

All of the effort was for a Christmas concert with about 400 other singers. She spent days practicing two songs in which she would collaborate. There were certain difficulties in rehearsing by herself, rather than the entire chorale, she found. Silverman, a soprano, listened to her vocal tracks over and over. “I probably recorded them 10 to 12 times before I got the lighting in the room and how I was seated and the angle.”

The concert debuted on YouTube and Facebook on Dec. 17. Singers from around the country, accompanied by strings, brass, woodwinds, and percussion, appeared via individual Zoom images arranged as if in a real-life chorale. Silverman sang the songs she had spent hours fine-tuning — “Rock and Roll North Pole” and “Deck the Halls.”

The concert, conducted in collaboration with AARP, also served to highlight the power of music to promote brain health and mental wellbeing. A research arm of AARP found that active musical engagement was connected to higher rates of happiness and cognitive function, particularly for those over 50, Encore said in a statement.

“Isolation looms large for older adults during this time,” said Jeanne Kelly, Encore Creativity’s founder and artistic director. “Our goal is to keep older adults engaged with singing, learning and activities that will bring joy.”

For Silverman, the experience has “just opened up a wide variety to me. My husband really loved jazz. We were several years apart in our ages and I never really listened to that much. And now I realize how much he loved it and I enjoy learning about the music he loved.

“It’s just multi-faceted, you know, because now I’m learning a little bit of music theory and understanding tempos and preparing myself for how to get from one note to the next, from a low note to a high note.”

A new program started in January and Silverman’s preparing for another concert in May. When it’s possible again, she may seek out local singing groups to be part of.

“Music moves your soul,” she adds. She’s glad she found Encore. Classes run at 10, noon and 2, four days a week. “My day goes by very quickly.”