(BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ) -- Wharton Arts, New Jersey’s largest non-profit performing arts education center, announced that it will partner with the Summit Area YMCA to offer programs for adults aged 55 and over beginning March 20, 2023. The Wharton CAFÉ Choir is a free eight-week choir program that will culminate with a public performance in New Providence on May 9. The program is a continuation of a pre-pandemic rendering made possible through funding from the National Guild for Community Arts Education.
In the fall of 2017, Wharton Arts was one of 20 organizations selected for the National Guild for Community Arts Education’s Catalyzing Creative Aging Program, a multi-phase initiative that supports the establishment of new creative aging programs at nonprofit arts education organizations nationwide. With the support of the Guild, Wharton Arts piloted its first CAFÉ (Creative Aging for Everyone) Choir in 2019 with 30 participants from Brighton Gardens of Mountainside and Sunrise of Madison. The free 12-week program culminated in a final concert at the Chatham United Methodist Church, where the choir performed popular standards from Rodgers and Hammerstein to Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer.
When asked to complete a program evaluation, more than 70% of the choir respondents indicated that CAFÉ Choir increased their appreciation of the arts and their interest in learning more about singing and the performing arts. The majority of respondents also indicated that the program increased their confidence, mental engagement, and confidence in creating art, and half of the respondents indicated that this program encouraged them to take part in other community activities.
Said Artistic Director Helen H. Cha-Pyo, “When in-person programming at assisted living facilities and older adult communities was not possible due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our youth musicians provided virtual recitals to provide adults who may be experiencing isolation with ongoing engagement with the arts and youth in their community. Examples of these Stay Home and Play recordings by New Jersey Youth Symphony members can be found on our YouTube channel. Now that we can safely return to in-person programming, Wharton Arts has pursued every avenue to launch a new choral residency in partnership with the Summit Area YMCA.”
During the same period, Wharton Arts launched a new division of study with its Lifelong Learning program as part of the 2021-22 season, offering group classes and private lessons to adults with both online and in-person education opportunities in a graduated exit from the pandemic. A new tuition-free community theater program also emerged, the first in Berkeley Height’s town history, for adults seeking a nonthreatening on stage experience.
“In response to the growing community need for more and better opportunities to improve quality of life and outlets to stay fulfilled and connected throughout one’s lifetime, Wharton Arts cultivated several avenues of creative expression for adults of all ability levels,” said Cha-Pyo.
This season’s CAFÉ Choir differs from the initial rendition in that it is a shorter, 8-week course open to the public, but the program is still completely free to participants thanks to support from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and Summit Foundation. Classes take place at two area YMCA locations: the Summit Area Y and the Berkeley Heights YMCA.
Said Summit Area YMCA Program Coordinator Mary Grace McCann, “As a member of the Diversity, Inclusion and Global Innovation Network, the Summit Area YMCA is committed to bridge building and encouraging a welcoming atmosphere within the community. The Y is made up of people from all walks of life who are joined together by a shared commitment to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to learn, grow, and thrive.”
Both Wharton Arts and the Summit Area YMCA hope that promoting this free opportunity among their over-10,000 combined members in an area spanning the communities of Berkeley Heights, New Providence, Millburn, Springfield, Short Hills, Summit, Gillette, Stirling, and beyond will offer meaningful social engagement with peers, family, and communities, further contributing to an improved quality of life for participants to feel valued and empowered as they make connections between art and their own life experiences.
As the older adult population in NJ increases exponentially in the coming years, the development of accessible, high quality programs and resources that improve quality of life are essential. Research shows the positive impacts of arts participation for older adult audiences who often experience extreme social isolation. For example, Dr. Gene Cohen, a leader in the field of geriatric psychiatry, demonstrated that older adults who participate in community-based cultural programs report better physical health, fewer doctor visits, less medication use, and higher morale than study participants who did not engage in such programs. The sense of empowerment that comes with skill development is also linked to improvements in physical and mental health in older adults.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the need for engagement and connection among these audiences, and Wharton Arts hopes to meet this incredible need by engaging adults 55+ through a variety of Lifelong Learning programs. For more information about the Wharton CAFÉ Choir, visit WhartonArts.org.
Wharton Arts’ mission is to offer accessible, high quality performing arts education that sparks personal growth and builds inclusive communities.
Wharton Arts’ vision is for a transformative performing arts education in an inclusive community to be accessible for everyone.
Wharton Arts is New Jersey’s largest independent non-profit community performing arts education center serving nearly 2,000 students through a range of classes and ensembles. The 5 ensembles of the New Jersey Youth Chorus, an auditioned choral ensemble program for students in grades 3–12, encourage a love and appreciation of choral music while nurturing personal growth and creative development. The 15 ensembles of the New Jersey Youth Symphony, which serve over 500 students in grades 3–12 by audition, inspire young people to achieve musical excellence through high-level ensemble training and performance opportunities. Based in Paterson, the Paterson Music Project is an El Sistema-inspired program of Wharton Arts that uses music education as a vehicle for social action by empowering and inspiring young people to achieve their full potential through the community experience of ensemble learning and playing. From Pathways classes for young children to Lifelong Learning programs for adults, the Wharton Performing Arts School has a robust musical theater and drama program and offers both private and group classes for instruments and voice for all ages and all abilities. With the belief in the positive and unifying influence of music and that performing arts education should be accessible to all people regardless of their ability to pay, Wharton Arts offers need-based scholarships.
Wharton Arts is located in Berkeley Heights, New Providence, and Paterson, NJ and reaches students from 12 counties. All of Wharton Arts’ extraordinary teaching artists, faculty members, and conductors hold degrees in their teaching specialty and have been vetted and trained to enable our students to achieve their personal best.
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