Castle Choir’s Blessed Winter Home

Gary Aubry is pleasantly surprised to find himself working at a job for 21 years longer than he had initially anticipated. Aubry said that when he was originally looking for a job 22 years ago and hoping to use his musical talents, he applied as an activities coordinator at Eastcastle Place retirement community on Milwaukee’s east side. “I learned about this position and the idea of working with seniors intrigued me,” he said. “The human resources person said, ‘give it a year and see how you like it.’ Twenty-two years later, it’s obvious that I liked it quite a bit!”

Aubry has a degree in music education and had directed choirs, bands, jazz bands, and orchestras for more than 40 years. “Working with seniors is wonderful because they have so many rich, life experiences and stories. And music brings them something that they enjoy and benefit from,” he said. “Music is proven to be beneficial to seniors for so many reasons including improving mood, enhancing cognitive function, and so much more.”

Last fall, Aubry stepped in to help with a choral group that was being revitalized by resident Marilyn Stanley and Laura Wengler, director of community life. The group had been on hiatus for several years. “Laura approached me and asked if I’d help direct the choir. I was delighted to learn that we had almost 30 people signed up,” he said. The ensemble performed a concert last winter, and then another one this past spring for a standing-room-only crowd. They decided to schedule an extra performance this holiday season in order to accommodate all their fans.

The Castle Choir which is open to all residents who are interested in singing, is made up of 27 residents, ages 80-93. The chaplain, director of community life, and Aubry’s wife also sing with them. “Some of the residents have some impressive experience, including one who has sung with Bel Canto, a respected choral group in Milwaukee. Others have never sung in a choir before and are learning and sound amazing. It’s so much fun to point out how well they’ve done and how far they’ve come,” Aubry said.

The name of this Christmas season’s concert is Our Blessed Winter Home, which is also the name of an original song in their set, written by Aubry. “I had written it for a project about five years ago, and played the instrumental version for the residents last spring. One of them said it would be great if they could sing to it. My wife, Karen Rasmussen, came up with the words, and I rearranged it for choir, with accompaniment by flutes, oboe, cello, and keyboard,” said Aubry. “The name really describes Eastcastle Place. It’s just a pleasure to be here. The residents are the warmest and friendliest people anywhere and I look forward to coming to work every day. There’s a strong feeling of inclusiveness. We’re not just a community of people living there. We’re like a big family, living in a homeā€¦our blessed winter home.”