Every Monday morning, the parish hall of St. Matthew's Episcopal Church fills with music sung by a choir of over 70 people. Two-thirds of the choir are people with memory loss and their caregivers who sing, clap and dance in unison to oldies and classics.
Love Notes Chorus is Austin’s first choir for people with Alzheimer's disease, meant to uplift people struggling with memory loss and foster community among their caregivers.
With the help of Music Director Edie Elkjer, the choir puts on seasonal performances each year for family, friends and community members.
Professional choir singers also volunteer to join the group for support.
"The larger number makes the people with memory loss feel even more safe. There's a lot of isolation with Alzheimer's, and when you're in a community of people, and just one of many, it feels a lot better," Elkjer said.
For over 12 years, Elkjer was a member of the nonprofit choir River City Pops.
Susie Higley, a longtime friend, partnered with Elkjer to start the nonprofit Music Memories Austin, which involved a small choir of singers hosting workshops at nursing homes.
"Oftentimes, the caregivers didn't get to see those performances, and it didn't have the sustaining power that we wanted," Elkjer said.
In 2019, the pair decided to start Love Notes Chorus, and in just four years their membership grew from 27 people up to 85.
Higley said music is a well-studied treatment for patients with memory loss, allowing them to connect with positive memories and improve their emotional state.
In the middle of each performance, a few choir members will go up to the microphone and share their personal memories about a song.
"After each concert, it's remarkable how many audience members tell us they're moved and motivated to join the group. There's so many people out there with this condition—we all know someone," said Andrew Verdesca, a singer who joined the choir in 2021 with his mother-in-law, who has dementia.
Love Notes Chorus members will host their year-end performance "Steppin' Out on Broadway" on Dec. 2 at St. Matthew's Episcopal Church.
Songs from this years recital include nostalgic show tunes, such as "Singing in the Rain," and holiday hits, such as "Winter Wonderland."