Creating space for seniors to dabble in the arts


Through numerous groups including the Sentral Seniors Citizen Association, KLSings and Alegria, choir leader and elder care advocate Cheryl Teh offers senior citizens various activities to get involved in - whether its music and movement, origami or batik painting. Photos: CHERYL TEH

Charyl Teh, the passionate advocate for community building through the joy of singing, has dedicated over 15 years to curating and leading choirs that resonate with the spirit of togetherness.

Known as the founder and choir leader of KLSings, Teh’s journey in spreading her gospel of song has left an indelible mark on the Malaysian musical landscape.

Prior to her leadership roles at KLSings, Teh served as the chairperson and choir director of The Philharmonic Society of Selangor from 2008 to 2019, establishing herself as a stalwart in the realm of community choirs.

Her dedication and rich experience in running choirs and community organisations earned her a coveted spot in the esteemed Eisenhower Fellowship in 2015, a transformative experience that connected her with influential figures and groups globally.

It was during one of these international programmes that Teh found the inspiration to embark on a new initiative, Alegria – Creativity For Older People.

Recounting the genesis of this group, she shares, “In 2022, I was in Melbourne as a Creative Australia (formerly Australia Council for the Arts) International Leadership Programme participant. While there, I visited and met arts practitioners who offer different arts-related services to seniors. Realising that not every senior likes to sing, I decided to expand arts-related activities to seniors in our local community, other than singing.”

The idea for Alegria came to Teh while she was on a leadership programme in Australia. GLENN GUAN/The StarThe idea for Alegria came to Teh while she was on a leadership programme in Australia. GLENN GUAN/The StarFostering connections

Alegria, still in its nascent stages, aims to curate and deliver singing and arts-related activities tailored specifically for seniors in Kuala Lumpur. Teh emphasises the intimate nature of Alegria’s classes, maintaining small group sizes of six to eight participants. This setting not only provides a conducive environment for seniors to engage in activities but also fosters connections and friendships among participants.

“The craft programmes activate the participants’ creative side. Many of them will begin with ‘I can’t do this or that’... but by guiding them step by step to try out something new, more often than not, they know they CAN do it at the end of the session!” Teh says. “There are some activities, such as macrame, which also help them with dexterity.”

Teh actively shares upcoming programmes and engaging activities on Facebook at (facebook.com/alegria.cop). Additionally, she curates the page with captivating reading materials and videos tailored for the elderly audience.

As Alegria continues to evolve, Teh envisions a more structured schedule for the initiative in the coming years. She underscores the symbiotic relationship between KLSings and Alegria, explaining, “Alegria offers other arts activities that don’t include singing. However, both organisations complement each other under one umbrella.”

Projects this year exemplify Teh’s commitment to community engagement and the well-being of seniors. From a fundraiser concert in May for the Perak Women for Women (PWW) to a Chari-Tea Party in Ipoh, the initiatives not only raised funds but also provided a platform for seniors to showcase their talents.

Teh reflects on the impact of this kind of project, saying, “In addition to the benefits derived from our weekly classes, the concert gave the seniors an opportunity to lend their voices towards a cause.”

Another project this year integrated both Alegria and KLSings members. Singapore’s Ministry of Bellz, which has a unique Singaporean-style of making handbell music, conducted an interactive session for seniors and some of the participants even brought their grandchildren along. This was the first time the participants learnt about handchimes and they had a lot of fun ringing and singing together.

Time to be creative

Alegria also conducted macramé, origami, decoupage and batik painting workshops. Teh shares that one of the participants, who has early onset of dementia, enjoyed the session tremendously and was the first to finish her batik painting!

“Sometimes there are other advantages to these sessions too. For example, it gave the other seniors a chance to interact with someone with dementia and to learn more about the condition.”

Apart from learning new things, the activities also allow seniors to socialise.Apart from learning new things, the activities also allow seniors to socialise.

Teh, a current fellow of the Arts for Good Fellowship under the Singapore International Foundation, delves into the motivation behind Alegria’s workshops.

“Many seniors can’t remember the last time they were ‘creative’, after being so busy for so long with their careers and families, being parents and then grandparents. They often have had no time left for themselves to explore creative hobbies or pastimes. Now that they are retired, they have the time but maybe lack the confidence and motivation to start something new.”

She adds, “At Alegria, we introduce an activity through a workshop, to give seniors the opportunity to try out a craft or activity and complete a small project in two or three hours. Once they try it, they can decide if it is something they would like to pursue. If they like it, we can offer more regular sessions or they might be motivated to learn it themselves. Having a hobby gives them a purpose and helps fill their time.”

Teh, who also coaches the Sentral Seniors Citizen Association (SSCA) English Choir, teaches at the ReU Living Retirement Village and conducts a Seniors Sing class for the University of the Third Age (U3A), emphasises the significance of these initiatives in the context of mental health for seniors.

“For the clients in the retirement village, most who have dementia, it has been rewarding to see them remember ‘new’ songs that I teach them versus the old songs which they remember from before.”

Teh, ever the music and choir singing advocate, says: “Singing helps enhance the memory, it’s a full body workout, especially when we include movement! It can improve well-being because it offers social connection and singing together also synchronises our heartbeats.

“It can be a stress relief, helping seniors relax and feel better and it offers them a sense of purpose, especially when working towards a performance or fundraising event. It makes them feel like they still have something to contribute back to society.”

Some seniors and their works of art.Some seniors and their works of art.

As someone with family members affected by dementia, Teh personally understands the impact of music as a means of communication.

“I’m offering these activities as a way to perhaps delay the onset of dementia. I want to provide opportunities for seniors to explore their creative side.”

Initiating both KLSings and Alegria has been exceptionally rewarding for Teh.

“It’s been wonderful to see the difference these activities have made in the lives of the senior citizens in the programmes – building their confidence, having a positive impact on their mental health and also physical health.”

Teh extends an invitation to seniors and enthusiasts alike through Alegria and KLSings, encouraging everyone to “Try Lah” and discover the transformative power of arts and singing for seniors. As she continues to champion community-building and well-being through these initiatives, she remains a beacon of inspiration in the world of music and community engagement.

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active ageing , retirement , socialising

   

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