Esther Watt started the Cultural Center Choral at Willow Valley Retirement Communities ten years ago after receiving encouragement from her fellow Willow Valley Residents. Never did she imagine that her group of about 50 singers would grow to be what it is today. Enjoy reading our interview as Esther answers questions about her musical experiences.
What instrument(s) do you play?
I play piano, accordion & trumpet.
When and why did you start playing music?
I began playing the piano at the age of 7. We had an old upright piano in the living room. I would try to pick out tunes on it. My parents (realizing my desire to play) paid an itinerant piano teacher to come to the house once a week to give me lessons.
Does a musical aptitude run in your family?
Yes, my mother would hold my sister and me on her lap in the rocking chair and sing to us. My uncle Charles was a self-taught piano player. I was the first person, however, in my family to graduate from college with a degree in music and become a professional.
What aspect of making music are you most enthusiastic about?
Whatever musical project I’m working on at the moment. Recently it was preparing the Willow Valley Cultural Center Chorale for our concert which celebrated our tenth season.
When I came to Willow Valley Retirement Communities in 2000, there was a choral group in existence at Manor North. I began singing with them and when either the director or accompanist was unable to function, I substituted. I was asked by North residents to consider forming a community-wide singing group. An invitation was extended via the weekly newsletter to the three communities (Spring Run was not built yet). To shorten the story we sang our first concert with fifty voices on the stage of the Cultural Center Theater for the dedication of that new structure on campus. Today we number over eighty volunteer singers ranging in age from sixty six to ninety two and one half. All interested Residents & Team Members are welcome. I do not audition anyone. I assume by this time in their life if they can’t sing, someone would have told them. We present concerts in May and December performing music by Brahms and Handel to A. L. Weber’s “Phantom of the Opera”.
My biggest challenge is choosing music we can comfortably master and at the same time have fun learning. Not all of the participants read music and that in itself presents a challenge. My joy is presenting The Chorale in concert, hearing the applause from the audience and observing the smiles on my singer’s faces knowing they have done well.
Click on the video below to hear “Ride the Chariot” from the MAY 16, 2012 CULTURAL CENTER CHORALE CONCERT
What aspect of making music do you find most discouraging?
Making music & sharing it with others is my joy, my passion……never discouraging.
What composers are your favorites and why?
I have no favorites.
What are your fondest musical memories?
My fondest musical memories are varied and many. At the age of eight, I accompanied the Christmas program at the Crystal Brook one-room school which I attended grades one thru eight. Winning first place in a local talent show at the age of twelve, playing my accordion. Another – having the privilege to direct the choirs and orchestras for ten years at The Lititz Moravian Congregation. Also, at The Fulton Theater singing & dancing in OperaLancaster’s production of Copland’s “Tenderland” and singing for many years with the Lancaster Symphony Chorus.
Have you performed in public? Where?
Yes, all my life. Locally.
I founded Watt-A-Trio. Drummer – Dick Wilson, Saxophone – Dan Disalvi and myself on piano. We were featured in Willow Valley’s twenty year anniversary, 2004. When a trombone player & a trumpeter moved in, we became Watt-A-Quintet and played concerts in all the Willow Valley Communities. Because of health problems of some of our players, we had to disband.
How often and for how long do you practice?
I try to sing, play the piano and sight read a little every day.
How do you balance music with other obligations? Is retirement an advantage?
I have learned to say “No”.
Yes, retirement is an advantage. I can pick & choose how I wish to spend my time.
If you could pick one favorite piece of music what would it be?
I don’t have one favorite piece of music.
Esther Armstrong Watt
Esther was born in her grandparents farm house, Lancaster County, Holtwood, PA. She graduated from Penn Manor High School. After earning degrees from West Chester, Millersville & Penn state Universities, she spent 30 years teaching Elementary Vocal Music in various Lancaster County School Districts. The last 5 years before retirement, She was the Music Department Chair for the Ephrata Area School District. For the past 12 years she has resided at Willow Valley Retirement Communities, Lancaster, PA.
- Music and Passions Series (restartretirement.com)
- Four Hands Piano – Meg and Anna (restartretirement.com)
- Twin Trumpeters – Marion and Betty (restartretirement.com)
- The Genetics of Glee or, what makes us sing in groups? (blogs.scientificamerican.com)
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