My "calling" emerged during a phone call. "So what do you think of helping to start a chorus for people with Alzheimer's and their caregivers?" asked my longtime friend and colleague Marge Ostroushko.

I had no personal or professional link to Alzheimer's. Like many, my perception of the disease could be summed up in one telling image: an elderly person with a vacant stare being ignored by everyone. I was about to take a gentle pass when intuition convinced me that something so distant from my own experience might have a powerful impact on my life and the well-being of a sometimes invisible community.

There are 92,000 Minnesotans with Alzheimer's. Giving Voice Chorus focuses on the 70 percent in early-to-mid-stage Alzheimer's who are living independently, outside of memory loss facilities, with few opportunities to participate in arts activities. It has evolved from a concept to a cultural nonprofit. We inspire and equip organizations to build choruses that bring joy, well-being and purpose to those with Alzheimer's and their caregivers.

Giving Voice Chorus incorporates best practices from fields of Alzheimer's, adult music education and recent neuroscience research. Our goal is to improve the singers' cognitive and social-emotional health while reducing the stigma of the disease through public performances.

Since 2014, we've grown to three Twin Cities choruses, with 160 people; two choruses under development in Greater Minnesota; and three others in the U.S. and Canada. Our choruses become self-determined communities that provide camaraderie and strong shoulders of support.

Some singers have studied music seriously; others just sing in the shower. Yet when they open their music binders they are every bit as artistically purposeful and committed as professional ensembles. Founding music director Jeanie Brindley-Barnett has established a safe creative environment in which "there is no wrong in the room." The singers take that to heart, risking mistakes in order to learn. They ask for more challenging arrangements. They write their own concert narration, sharing with the audience funny and poignant stories that "give voice" to their lives.

I see the smiles and tears on both sides of the footlights. Audience members say that Giving Voice Chorus has changed their attitude about Alzheimer's. We've seen families reunite. We hear people claim they can't tell who does and doesn't have the disease. Such direct and immediate impact is rare.

The singers call Giving Voice Chorus a "lifeline" or "the best part of my week." The gratitude goes both ways. They also nurture this calling of mine. They are my tutors of acceptance and my mentors in unconditional love.

Nancy Fushan is a board member of Giving Voice Chorus.


Got a story?
We'd like to hear it. For writer's guidelines, go to Email your 450-word personal essay to