Singers gotta sing — and serve others
“Sing well. Have fun. Serve others.”
That’s the motto of ShowTime Singers, a community chorus based in Ellicott City. Its singers, who range in age from 30 to 82, perform at assisted living facilities, libraries and senior centers throughout the Baltimore-Washington area.
The group’s motto guides its actions, said Cathy Johnson, music director of ShowTime Singers.
“That’s why we get together on Thursday nights, and it’s not just a social situation. That’s why we work to sing, so that the quality is very important.
“And the final thing, the ‘serve others’ — we go into the community, and it is important to make people feel really good about themselves. And we do that in whatever way we can,” Johnson said.
ShowTime Singers will celebrate its 20th anniversary in January. The all-volunteer group started in 2003, when four women from another singing group — Johnson, Paula Rehr, Kate Warnock and Cass Markowski — created ShowTime Singers, hoping to bring live music to the community.
“We started this chorus specifically to do that — go out to sing for various groups, especially senior groups…because so many of them could not get out of the community and hear live music.”
Their first concert took place in Columbia before an international organization dedicated to improving the lives of girls and women worldwide. The early ShowTime Singers also performed at senior centers and practiced at the former Ellicott City Senior Center.
Over the years the group has appeared at many kinds of public venues, including Fort McHenry, the Kimball Theater in Historic Williamsburg, Virginia, and Baltimore’s Horseshoe Casino, where they opened for the rock band Foreigner in 2019.
ShowTime Singers perform music from the 1930s to current selections that their audiences can recognize.
“A lot of it is show tunes…songs that people sang or danced to in their youth,” Johnson said. “Even in facilities where they have memory care…music is just the magic that brings the memories back.”
After performances, members of the group reach out personally to audience members, engaging in one-on-one conversation or just exchanging a smile.
“We try to make it a more personal performance, not just for the whole group, but for each individual,” Johnson said.
Stalled by pandemic
Of course, in-person performances came to a halt during the pandemic. Karen Casanova of Marriottsville, one of two assistant music directors for ShowTime Singers, said it was very difficult for the group not to be able to practice or perform together during the pandemic.
But then they started rehearsing on screen rather than in person. “We were on Zoom, and we were having fun,” Casanova said.
“We put together two virtual performances…so we still felt as if we were serving others. But I know the frustration Cathy felt at not being able to hear anybody sing,” she added.
Casanova, who’s been a member of ShowTime Singers for 12 years, said she joined the group because she loves to sing and because the members were so welcoming when she attended an open house.
“You could not find anywhere a group more accepting of everyone. And that was what I liked.”
Membership by audition
Singers must audition with Johnson, the music director, before they can become part of ShowTime Singers. But it’s not a lengthy audition, Casanova said.
“She usually plays some scales or some notes and has them match the pitch of those notes. She asks them to sing something a cappella that is familiar to them,” Casanova said.
ShowTime Singers started with just a dozen members, and it currently has 40 members, according to Bill Moss of Clarksville, president of the group. The singers practice every week at the Linwood Center in Ellicott City, which provides services to children and adults with autism.
Moss, who recently retired as executive director of Linwood, said ShowTime Singers has had a special relationship with the facility since the group was founded. If any money is donated, the group has always split it evenly with the Linwood Center.
According to Moss, one of the original founders of the group had a son in the Linwood program at the time and proposed the arrangement.
Moss said early on, donations were used to build and equip Linwood’s music room. “Today, Linwood’s adult and children’s programs use [our] donations help pay the cost of music and entertainment activities in the community, as well as music supplies,” Moss said.
Members of ShowTime Singers also pay monthly dues to help support the performing arts organization. The Howard County Arts Council and the Maryland States Arts Council also support the group.
“Expenses include the cost of performance supplies, music equipment, learning and enhancement activities, an accompanist and more,” Moss explained.
Making personal connections
Music director Johnson pointed out that part of the mission of ShowTimeSingers is to help improve singers’ abilities and to build a strong musical bond between them.
“We spend time on production skills, so when folks come in to join us each week, they learn something about their voice.”
But, Johnson said, “We’re not just learning how to sing properly. We’re also getting to know each other, because people that like each other make a much more beautiful sound.”
ShowTime Singers’ first concert of their fall season is scheduled for October 23 at the Lutheran Village at Miller’s Grant, a retirement community in Ellicott City.
More information about the ShowTimeSingers is available at showtimesingers.net.