Apparently they call it cognitive dissonance—a mental phenomenon that occurs when the ideas or beliefs commonly tied with an event or place conflict with reality. Dissonance usually breeds discomfort. Think of that scene, for instance, from “The Sound of Music” when Julie Andrews returns to the nunnery after months of nannying for the Von Tropp children; she expects a happy homecoming, a return of the comfort, safety, and familiarity from her days of youth, but what she experiences is dissatisfaction, displacement, and a longing for what has become her new home with the Von Tropps. If you have your PhD, you say that Julie Andrews is experiencing an identity crisis fueled by cognitive dissonance. If you’re a normal person, you say she is confused, and has a bit of soul-searching to do.
I think I experienced a bit of cognitive dissonance one Sunday last month when, returning from my lunch break, I could hear singing coming from the Woods’ chapel—quite normal, you say, but imagine my shock when I found it was not the chorus of some old spiritual (“Come Thou Fount” perhaps), but the roistering anthem of sports fans everywhere, Queen’s classic “We Will Rock You.” A retirement community. On a Sunday. Singing Queen. Was I missing something?
Further dissonance ensued when, upon investigation, I found not only alter pieces, vestments, and hymnals adorning the chapel, but speaker boxes, laptop computers (macbooks no less), and eclectic lighting effects. The congregants, too, joined in the fray, a mixture of well-mannered, venerable seniors and spunky teenagers, complete with ripped denim and spiky hairstyles. Myself: a mixture of wonder, fear and trembling. Apparently it’s called “Intergenerational Rock Choir”— the brainchild of Kameri Muir, a senior from Florida State University who, for her final project in the Music Therapy program concocted a way of bridging the gap between the young and old through song. “I just love doing this,” says Kameri energetically after choir practice, held typically on Sunday afternoons. “Everybody responds to music—it’s a great connector. And it’s multipurpose, you know: you refresh the older generation while inspiring the new.”
The formula itself is inspired: take a group of teenagers eager to exercise their melodious chops (drawn, in this case, largely from volunteers from Forest Hills Eastern high school); put them together with a group of thriving retirees (drawn, of course, from the vivacious population of MapleCreek); place a dynamic song leader in front of them (I don’t think Kameri stopped singing or moving once), and the result is no less than orchestral. But the core of her concept lies in finding classic hits that both ends of the age spectrum will recognize and consider “their own” in some degree; music thus becomes the common ground, a mutual space in which the two groups, so different in so many ways, can relate and engage one another effectively. In other words, real community between the two populations is possible with ambassadors like Freddy Mercury, James Brown, and Bob Dylan.
With my dissonance dissipating, I was more prepared than most, I think, when on April 17th the Intergenerational Rock Choir held its first concert in Trinity chapel. It was (I can’t help myself) a show for the ages; a chapel full of family members and loved ones sat in awe as hit after classic hit
issued from the choir, from the soulful camaraderie of “Lean on Me” to the exuberant frivolity of “I Got You!” Many songs took on deeper meanings, given the context—The Who’s “My Generation,” for example, struck exactly the right theme of unification that the choir seemed to manifest, and when Dylan’s “Forever Young” poured forth, there were, as Woods’ Life Enrichment Coordinator Beth Terborg recalls, “tears everywhere!”
“It was such an awesome time,” Beth reminisces, offering her kudos to Kameri for a job well done: “families were really impressed.”