“What a Wonderful World”: How a volunteer-led choir enriches lives of older adults



No one would guess that Therese Stecher’s desire to lead music as a volunteer came out of tragedy. Friendly and encouraging, the former critical care nurse has been enriching the lives of older adults through music since 2007. But life wasn’t always sunny.

Her son, Brandon experienced a near-fatal car accident in 2005. He was 18 at the time.

Therese remembers receiving a call and knowing how serious the situation was due to her nursing background. First, doctors didn’t think he was going to live. But over the next two years, Brandon made a miraculous recovery with the help of his mom.

“I started thinking, ‘I have this debt in heaven that I need to repay. I need to do something that is meaningful,’” Therese recalled.

The bright blessed days, dark sacred nights

Therese (pictured above) went to local Cub Foods stores and began putting signs up advertising a traveling community choir. Her nonprofit, Music for Memories, consists of a volunteer choir (“a’Choir’d Harmony”) along with various senior choirs, comprised of residents within a senior living community. Therese and her volunteers direct choirs at St. Andrew’s Village, Saint Therese of Woodbury, Amira and the Shores of Lake Phalen Senior Living. Stonecrest, a Presbyterian Homes & Services (PHS) community, was the first senior living community where she formed a choir for older adults.

“This is just so rewarding and purposeful…and work needs to be purposeful,” she said.

Piano playing since she was seven, Therese leads a choir of 32 older adults, called the Stonecrest Senior Singers, who are committed to rehearsing on Tuesday afternoons.

“These guys are expected to be at practice every week. It’s not a random collection of people,” Therese said. “It’s a group of people who are working towards a goal.” Singers prepare all year for concerts in June and December.

Some have professional music backgrounds; others didn’t discover they could sing until they joined the choir.

Click here to watch the Stonecrest Senior Singers peform “What a Wonderful World.” 

Therese adjusts the music to break down barriers – lyrics in bigger font, larger music notes, a singular melody line. She even adds tabs to pages so they are easier to turn.

“Page turns were our nemesis,” Therese said with a laugh.

But it’s not just about the music. Therese’s favorite part of her work is getting to know each singer. They’ve become friends. At Stonecrest, Dean makes her banana bread. She chats with Sylvia in her apartment.

The friendships are mutual.

They’re really saying “I love you”

“We respect her a great deal…not everyone can deal with a choir like ours, like Therese does,” Sylvia shared. “She just understands us. She knows what kind of music we can sing, and she knows how to pace. We can’t sing her praises highly enough.”

Another resident, Ernie, relates how after weeks of bringing his wife – a resident in memory care – to rehearsals, he decided to join the choir himself.  “I spent most of my life listening to music and loving it, but never participating because someone one day told me, ‘You don’t have that good of a voice.’ Therese told me to ‘get in the front row and let it go.’ If it hadn’t been for Therese, I’d still be walking around and humming because I didn’t want to sing,” Ernie said.

Therese credits PHS employees with helping ensure all residents can participate. “The reason they are so involved here is because of Stonecrest. They are committed to making it happen.”

PHS employees understand the research behind the health benefits of music. Therese talks about how one’s memory is enhanced for 20 to 30 minutes after exposure to music.

That is valuable time for a family member to connect with a loved one who has dementia.

A family member of a resident in memory care once told Therese, “I used to hate visiting my mom because she doesn’t remember enough to have a conversation. And it was somewhat painful. And now we come to choir practice, and we have a great time.”

Therese has never turned anyone away. She sees choir members grow in confidence, purpose and belonging. That is what’s most meaningful.

And I think to myself, what a wonderful world…

“Everyone adds a little bit of broth to the stew. One may also add chunks of meat, but another adds the carrots. It all goes together. Throughout our lives, we join groups. And then you come to a senior living community … and you might be afraid of losing that group identity,” Therese reflected. “That has become very important to people. They get very proud – ‘I’m in the choir!’”

Therese’s work brings joy to many older adults in the Twin Cities.

“It gives me as much as I give them, if not more … probably more,” she said.

Therese’s long-term vision is to have a website where people can select songs and they are all ready to be used at any senior living community.
Music for Memories is a volunteer-run, nonprofit organization that accepts donations or gifts in memoriam.

Did you know? Stonecrest isn’t the only PHS community with a choir – half of PHS communities include volunteer-led resident choirs.  In fact, coming to live at a PHS community does not mean your life slows down. Rather – this is where the fun begins! With support and a community atmosphere, now you get to focus on what really matters. You can pursue purpose and new connections with friends and family. Explore all life has to offer in this new chapter of life: Find a Community – Presbyterian Homes & Services (preshomes.org)



Get news, stories and updates on PHS communities, residents and employees, plus resourceful information on living well!

More stories