Senior Living: A Song for Generations
“You don’t stop singing because you get old; you get old because you stop singing.” Not only the motto for one of Dr. Helen Kemp’s various choral events, it is an idea she has obviously lived by. For more than six decades, Helen has shared her gift of music with her family and many others, and in no way have her efforts gone unnoticed.
Next year, for her 90th birthday her younger colleagues will host a Children’s Choir Festival in NYC with several hundred children singing her compositions.
“It’s very exciting knowing these students will carry on ideas to other generations,” she said.
Helen herself has been sharing her talent with a new generation at her residence, Manor at Yorktown, a 55+ Premier Lifestyle Community in Jamison, Penn. There, she is the volunteer director of The Manor Singers, made up of 21 residents who give concerts twice a year on the campus. They are also involved in community projects, and Helen is in full anticipation of one in particular. The Manor Singers will team up with a local high school for a spring concert.
Wouldn’t that be wonderful,” she said with excitement ringing in her voice, “We’re bringing generations together, and it was the student’s idea!”
Not only has Helen developed standard instructional materials, or been featured in a documentary video, but Helen’s various honors include receiving the Elaine Brown Award for Choral Excellence by the American Choral Directors Association of Pennsylvania. She was also selected as presenter for The Mastery of Teaching Educational series, a project underwritten by the New York Metropolitan Opera Guild.
One would think singing was her childhood dream. In high school, however, most of Helen’s free time was devoted to athletics. That all changed when the school’s choral conductor made her try out for a performance, and encouraged her to take lessons.
“It’s all about who teaches you,” Helen said of the man who influenced her to start her musical journey, a simple statement she believes to this day.
As an undergraduate at Westminster Choir College of Princeton, New Jersey, she met John, whom she married the morning of commencement day in the campus chapel to the sounds of the choir.
The couple served as founding members of the Choristers Guild, an international organization for children’s choirs, and held church positions in several states. They spent 20 years developing an acclaimed program at First Presbyterian Church in Oklahoma City.
One of Helen’s fondest memories is traveling with her growing family when John wanted to study choral music in Europe. The family sang as a group called the ‘Kemp Carolers’ to earn their way.
“It was an adventure,” said Helen, “It got my children interested in performing.”
Interested, however, is putting it lightly. Her oldest daughter sang opera in Europe and now teaches at Westminster with her husband while one of Helen’s two sons is a director for the Music Department at Germantown Academy in Ft. Washington. The youngest in the family is an artist and jazz musician who travels with her mother. Although Helen’s other two children do not have music careers, they love to sing in their free time.
John and Helen also served two tenures at their alma mater, and found it difficult to retire from their musical careers. They finally returned to Bucks County and bought the 10-room, several-acre farmhouse in which Helen was born, an ideal location close to four of their children.
Only two years later, John passed away, and caring for a large home became too much for Helen. She had less time to spend composing or playing the piano.
She was overwhelmed but reluctant to leave such a beloved place.
I didn’t know if I could be happy anywhere else,” she said. For Helen, however, the Manor at Yorktown was “love at first sight”
She attended a guest seminar where the bright, high-ceilinged apartments and beautiful garden entrance captured her attention. Helen liked the friendly small village atmosphere and after two and a half years of living at Manor, she is still happy about the decision she made.
“This changed my life,” she said, “It has really been a blessing.”
Most importantly, she has a den for her piano, the one belonging she says she cannot live without and with which she has successfully published songs at her new residence. She compared her Manor lifestyle to that in her farmhouse where she could not drive at night and felt isolated. Now she starts her day off with exercise class and at night, dines, talks and shares movies with her fellow residents.
Since I am so involved with outside commitments, I don’t need a lot of planned activities,” she said, “But there are always educational and entertaining things to do here.”
Through the high and low notes, the song of Helen’s journey thus far is one she will not stop singing, especially now that her new home allows her to further pursue her passion.
What I see in people’s faces when they learn to sing,” she said, “It’s like you’re adding something to their life.”