Members of the Tony Connelly Singers were onhand at the Golden Circle recently to celebrate the group’s nomination for a 2018 Minister’s Seniors Service Award. Mark Weber/Red Deer Express

Tony Connelly Singers offers a gift of community spirit

Group nominated for 2018 Minister’s Seniors Service Award

The Tony Connelly Singers have been brightening residents’ lives for more than 35 years with their fun and engaging musical performances.

Under the direction of Betty Epp, the group – which numbers about 25 these days – has long been committed to performing at nursing homes and care centres, bringing the gift of song to residents.

It’s for this dedication to the community that the Singers are one of several groups, individuals and organizations that have been nominated for the 2018 Minister’s Seniors Service Awards.

A celebration was held at the Golden Circle to honour nominees for these awards, which will be announced this October.

As for the Tony Connelly Singers, it all started with a dream to share the joy of song. It was a pretty simple start, too.

Margaret Dand, who has been with the group from the start, recalls meeting Connelly in a parking lot here in the City.

“We decided we should sing together,” she said with a smile. They brought more friends into the mix and before long, they were becoming known as a fun and dynamic group. “They were songs that we know well – it was fun. The next thing I knew, we would tell someone else about it and they would join.

“It was good fun, and Tony was such a tremendous guy. He knew everyone, and if he didn’t he would find out who they were,” she said of Connelly’s friendly, outgoing nature.

Epp said Connelly was known all over town for his tenor voice. “He sang Irish songs, and he would visit the hospital nearly every day.”

Connelly today lives in a Calgary nursing home, but his local influence remains strong.

“We have a two-point mission,” said Epp. “Number one, it’s to sing for seniors, in seniors homes or residences and care places. Wherever we are asked to go, we will go,” she said. “We have a practice every Tuesday morning from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the Downtown House (September to mid June), and then we sing out usually Wednesdays, Thursdays and Friday afternoons – anywhere from four to six sing-outs a month.”

Epp said they perform a range of the ‘golden oldies’ but are certainly open to tackling newer tunes as well.

“The second part of our mandate is that we also take care of one another – we are a friendship group. So in the summer, we suffer from withdrawal when we are away from each other because we spend a lot of time together through the year,” she added with a laugh. “We meet for coffee and conversation on Tuesday mornings for about an hour all summer long at the Downtown House, too. We’ll have coffee and chat and share.”

Epp has been director for about 10 years, and remains as passionate as ever about the group.

“Music is my life. I’ve been a piano teacher, and I taught for 26 years for Red Deer Public. And most of those years were music instruction at the elementary level,” she explained. “So music has always been integral to my life.”

That passion has been there since her youth.

“Home (growing up) was musical but in an informal kind of way,” she said. “We all sang, but we didn’t sing formally. Everyone threw in a harmony and it was fun. And that’s the kind of singing we do with this choir,” she said. “We are not in anyway in competition with any other choir in town. We are a bunch of singers who like to sing for others.”

No audition is necessary.

“I’ve never auditioned for a choir in my life, and I’ve had four community choirs and many children’s choirs,” she said with a smile. “My philosophy is that everyone can sing. All I need to do is to sit you beside someone who has got a strong voice, and you will find (yours).”

Epp said music has a healing quality. “We will find people in some of the nursing homes who haven’t spoken for several days, and they will start to sing with us. You will see toes tapping.

“We also always have a sing-along component – we try to be as interactive as we can be.”

For Epp, she describes music as a life-line. “I would be very lost without it really. I have several other things that I do, but this is in my blood. I just love doing it.”

As to the group, she encourages folks to drop by a practice anytime. “They would be so welcome. Come on out to a practice!”

For more, call Shirley at 403-342-5904 or Betty at 403-346-7316.

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