by JANET MANDELSTAM
LifeDesigns client Jake May, a lifelong singer, wanted to be a choir director, so about 2 1/2 years ago he approached Kristen King, LifeDesigns community engagement coordinator and asked, “Why can’t we start a choir here?”
The answer: “We can.”
From May’s suggestion, the All Abilities Choir was formed, with about 30 people attending the first meeting.
Most of the members are clients of LifeDesigns, but family members, Indiana University music students, and community volunteers have also lent their voices to the choir. “You don’t have to have a disability to participate,” King says. “You just have to want to sing.”
May, 27, serves as co-director of the All Abilities Choir, along with Aaron Smith, 28, also a client at LifeDesigns. “We knew from the beginning that we wanted the choir to be community based,” King says.
May leads the choir, and Smith is his backup and the facilitator who prints out the lyrics and takes attendance at practice.
“It’s a lot of fun,” May says. For Smith, the best part of the choir is “being with friends.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the choir met bi-weekly in person. It has continued to rehearse virtually.
Smith and May say the highlight for them was singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at an IU women’s basketball game in January 2020. The performance had special meaning for May. “I graduated on that court [from Bloomington High School South],” he says.
The choir has performed at games for local high schools, at the kickoff of a United Way of Monroe County campaign, and at LifeDesigns events. Its usual repertoire favors country music and songs like “Stand By Me” and Lonestar’s “Amazed.”
“And we both really love Elvis,” says May.
LifeDesigns serves 300–350 clients in eight counties, offering support services, residential services, and employment services. It helps clients identify their dreams—like being a choir director— and set achievable goals to reach them.
The All Abilities Choir, King says, is a way to make the community more inclusive. When will it perform again? “Any time we can get a gig.”