Amazing Grace: A Choir For Sufferers Of Memory Loss

by Erika Janik
| July 8, 2015

Erika Janik

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Weekends are usually quiet at the Milwaukee High School of the Arts. But for a few hours on Saturday mornings, the Amazing Grace Chorus fills the band room with song.

The singers come from diverse backgrounds but they share one thing in common: memory loss. Some singers experience memory loss themselves while others come with their loved ones to sing and to remember. Dementia may have stolen the memories of some of the choir members but it hasn’t taken their music.

The chorus began in 2014 as an outreach project of the Wisconsin Alzheimers Institute. The organization was contacted by Dr. Mary Mittelman, a researcher studying the positive effect of singing on mood in caregivers and people with memory issues in New York. The Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Institute brought the program to Milwaukee. Besides the benefits of song, outreach specialist Stephanie Houston says they hope to reduce negative attitudes toward memory loss, particularly among African Americans.

Practices are led by an all-star team of conductors. Among them, music teacher Vanta Jones. He agreed to participate as soon as he heard about the program, drawn to the idea of helping people reconnect and remember music.

Ella McKinley comes to rehearsals with her husband James. They've always loved music and appreciate the opportunity to be able to sing together. 

One week, he sang a solo that brought tears to Ella's eyes.

Pearl Cannon didn’t consider herself a singer but she came for her husband. And in return, she found a community and hope.

Tags: memory / choir / Milwaukee High School of the Arts / Alzheimer's Disease / family / performances / disease

Erika Janik spins multiple "Wisconsin Life"-related plates as she acquires, edits, records, and mixes radio stories for broadcast -- all while searching for new roadside attractions, hiking trails  and local beer to explore.  She is the author of five books including "Apple: A Global History", and most recently "Marketplace of the Marvelous: The Strange Origins of Modern Medicine