Keyton | In the groove with the Grove Singers at Ngunnawal

In the groove with the Grove Singers at Ngunnawal

Thursday, 04 January 2024
Choir members from The Grove singing Christmas Carols

The Grove Singers come together each week to sing at the retirement community in Ngunnawal.

On a journey of excitement not boredom in retirement, the Grove Singers share their tunes with neighbours, friends and the broader community. “That helps our brains, we don’t just come to the retirement village to vegetate; it’s not village and vegetate, it’s village and activate,” says Renate Cvitanovic, conductress.

Written by Jessica Cordwell for Canberra Weekly

How it all started

A married couple who live at the Grove Ngunnawal retirement community had the idea of starting a singing group, and although neither knew how to play music they saw the value in it. Forming in 2020, the group started practising with a hired pianist.  

Soon it was obvious the cost was unsustainable, so Renate offered to play, leaving the group without a conductor. Then Fay Sudweeks, a retired university lecturer came on board. Fay hadn’t played the piano for 40 years before accompanying the singing group.  

“It started off with really easy songs and a few scales then it got harder and harder and harder,” says Fay. 

An ever-growing repertoire

Since its inception, the group has acquired more than 300 songs in its repertoire, all of which were planned by Renate, who says the concert themes just come to her when she’s in bed. 

“I tell them what we’re singing and some of them say ‘I hate that song’ but by the time they’ve learned it, they love it,” says Renate. “Some of them say, ‘Do we have to sing that one, it’s too hard?’ My idea is to make it challenging so that each time their voices are improving.” 

Originally practising for one hour once a week, the session gradually crept to two hours as the singers didn’t want it to end. Now, they get together in the village theatre every Wednesday and Sunday afternoon for two hours, perfecting the notes for their three major concerts a year and performances around the village. 

Building community through song

Celebrating the festive season, the Grove Singers hit the community to spread Christmas cheer with their neighbours recently.  

The group’s core 25 singers started the carolling by visiting the marked destinations they sent to residents ahead of the day, and their numbers grew with each stop. Led by people dressed as Santa, they handed out lyrics to the new recruits so everyone could join in. 

“By the time we got to the final spot we had easily 70 people following us and singing. Then we came in [to the clubhouse], some brought family, some brought friends,” says Renate.  

Earlier in the year, they hosted an international concert with a food tasting covering 20 songs from 20 countries, like Around the World in 80 Days, she says. The food represented five countries, was made by members of the choir and was served by members of Renate’s family, who came along to support the conductress.  

The choir put on a Eurovision themed event The choir put on a Eurovision themed event

Sharing joy beyond the village community

After the concerts are performed in their retirement community, the singers head to the Isabella Gardens Retirement Village to share their fun with residents there. The word about the singers is spreading; from next year they will also tour the concerts to Goodwin Village in Farrer.  

The group usually sits at around 25 performers, and varies depending on circumstances. Predominantly women, they have about five men, one of whom travels from the Isabella Gardens village twice a week to join.  

Boosting wellbeing through music

For occasions like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, they sing songs that fit the theme; other times it’s the classics that might bring back memories.  

“All the medical research says that music is one of the best things for dementia because it brings back memories. They can relate to it, it has a lot of medical benefits,” says Renate.  

"Music is one of the best things for dementia because it brings back memories."

On occasion, the group will also take requests.  

“We have one lady who wanted us to sing Danny Boy because it reminded her of her dad and while we were singing, she cried the whole time. It means different things to different people,” she says.  

The power of music

Knowing it’s important to have an active interest or hobby in retirement, Renate says she derives tremendous pleasure from her involvement in the group.  

“I had learned the piano and sang in school choirs, but I had never done any conducting and it’s opened a new door for me. It’s meant that I come, and I laugh, we laugh, we have fun, we joke; it’s opened a whole new avenue,” she says.  

Fay has also benefited from playing for the Grove Singers. 

“I hadn’t played the piano for 40 years until I came here. I bought a piano and tried to learn again … I have enjoyed playing,” smiles Fay. 

Available for concerts in the broader community, the amateur group doesn’t charge for their performances.