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Uniting Through Music: The Sabathani Vintage Voices’ June Concert

Uniting Through Music: The Sabathani Vintage Voices’ June Concert

The Sabathani Vintage Voices, a remarkable choir of older adults, have captured the hearts of their community through their dedication to music and support for one another. In partnership with the renowned choral organization VocalEssence and the Sabathani Community Center, this ensemble is set to deliver an unforgettable concert on Thursday, June 8, in the Sabathani Auditorium. We had the pleasure of sitting down with two members of the choir, Phyllis Harris and Nancey Riley, as they shared their love for the choir and their excitement for the upcoming concert. 

Phyllis Harris: A Testimony of Resilience and Musical Inspiration  

With a residency spanning more than two decades in the neighborhood, Phyllis Harris has been an avid participant in Sabathani’s senior programs. Joining the choir nine years ago, she instantly found solace in the remarkable leadership of director Rob Graham and pianist John Jensen. Phyllis passionately expressed her admiration, stating, “Rob has been a sensational director, introducing us to a diverse range of music we otherwise wouldn’t have heard. And John Jensen, our pianist, is simply the awesome-est.” 

Phyllis’s unwavering commitment to the choir was magnified when she faced a challenging moment in her life—an unexpected stroke. After she was forced to miss a concert due to her hospitalization, the choir became the driving force behind her recovery. Phyllis’s determination to return to the choir, working with her doctors and speech therapist, resulted in a remarkable bounce back. “I owe my recovery to the choir,” she joyfully exclaimed. 

Nancey Riley: A Lifetime of Melodies and a Harmonious Connection  

Like Phyllis, Nancey Riley is a lifelong resident of the neighborhood, having even attended junior high in the very building that now houses Sabathani. After retiring in 2017, Nancey found her way to the choir and quickly formed a bond with its members. However, shortly after joining, the choir faced an unforeseen obstacle—the pandemic. Yet, their beloved director, Rob Graham, remained a pillar of support, checking on each member individually, even visiting them at home. 

Both Phyllis and Nancey share a love for music and singing. Phyllis reminisced about her musical upbringing and how she grew to embrace a wide range of musical genres from opera to country western. Nancey spoke fondly of her mother’s role as a choir director in their church and how singing has always been her source of rejuvenation—an opportunity to breathe in the good and exhale the bad. 

The Significance of the Choir in Their Lives  

For Phyllis, who retired in 2011, the choir has breathed purpose, direction, and structure into her life. She eagerly looks forward to their weekly rehearsals and is especially thrilled about the June concert. When asked what she’s most excited about, Phyllis beams as she mentions the opportunity to deliver the spoken welcome, passionately reciting it on the spot, “Welcome, everybody. We’re going to have a blessed evening up in here. This is the ninth year we’ve been a choir. Sit back and enjoy…” 

This year’s concert promises to be a tapestry of diverse musical styles. The assortment of songs, poems, and reflections will center on the significance of optimism, embracing life’s journey with all its ups and downs. The Sabathani Vintage Voices aim to touch the hearts of their audience and remind them of the power of music as a unifying force. 

An Ensemble United in Song and Community 

Phyllis praises the diversity within the choir and the remarkable camaraderie they share, saying, “Everyone is good to each other; we get along well. We have a beautiful group of people – some brand new. I think we’re phenomenal.” Originally mostly women, the choir has grown in size and added more men over the years. Phyllis attributes this growth to the nurturing guidance provided by Rob Graham, whose kind and gentle approach has been instrumental in creating a welcoming environment. 

Nancey echoes Phyllis’s sentiments and expresses her gratitude for Rob’s encouraging nature, highlighting his emphasis on improvement and growth. Additionally, through their partnership with VocalEssence, the Sabathani Vintage Voices have had the opportunity to collaborate with larger ensembles at prestigious venues such as Northrop Auditorium and Orchestra Hall. Nancey and Phyllis treasure these memories, where they joined their voices with 200 others, creating truly unforgettable performances. 

VocalEssence Vintage Voices and Sabathani Community Center Senior Center present “Journey On, My Friends!” on Thursday, June 8, 2023, at 6:00pm in the Sabathani Auditorium. This concert is free and open to the public, and the choir warmly invites everyone to experience this evening of musical celebration. For more information about Sabathani’s Senior Activities, please click here. 

Interested in joining the Sabathani Vintage Voices?
Contact director Rob Graham at

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