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’Tis the season to spread glee

Community: Local center spreads the holiday cheer with singing group

Posted: November 21, 2011 1:30 a.m.
Updated: November 21, 2011 1:30 a.m.

SCV Senior Center music director John Swinford accompanies Silver Belles as they rehearse “Frosty The Snowman” in the multipurpose room at the Bouquet Canyon Senior Apartments in Santa Clarita on Thursday.

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It’s starting to sound a lot like Christmas in the dining room at the Bouquet Canyon Senior Apartments in Saugus.

That’s where the Silver Belles, an all-female glee club, practices every Thursday.

On a warm Southern California fall day, the dozen or so members  enthusiastically sing “Frosty the Snowman” and “O’ Holy Night.”

Marie Oleson, of Newhall, has been crooning with the club for about two years.

“I love to sing. I’ve been singing since I was a kid, mostly in choirs,” she said. “Here, there’s a lot of friendliness. It’s a lot of fun.”

That’s music to the ears of John Swinford, director of music for the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center, who leads the group and plays piano.

“My wife read an article in AARP magazine that music and being part of a group working toward a common goal promotes a good quality of life,” Swinford said. “You can be healthy, but not well. This promotes mental and emotional wellness.”

The Silver Belles fall under the umbrella of the center’s Silver Tones program, which also hosts an orchestra, the Memory Makers singing group and the all-male Silver Beaux glee club.
Practice is about 90 minutes weekly for each group, and joining the program is free and open to seniors with any level of musical talent.

“It’s really about encouraging seniors to get involved and stay active. If a senior has a desire to make music, they’re welcome to join us,” Swinford said. “If we have a nice musical product from it, all the better.”

For Rita Roth, of Newhall, who’s been an intermittent member of the Silver Tones for the last 15 years, singing with the Silver Belles was a way to re-enter society after the deaths of two husbands.

“It helped me get out of my tremendous grieving process. I find a lot of camaraderie here, sometimes with people I used to know, sometimes with new friends,” Roth said.
It’s also the perfect forum to showcase her inner performer.

“I’m a born-again ham,” Roth said.

Members of the Silver Belles and the center’s other musical programs travel to senior living facilities and convalescent hospitals throughout the Santa Clarita Valley to entertain residents and patients.

“We recently went to the Santa Clarita Adult Day Healthcare Center. It was wonderful, the audience was so appreciative,” Swinford said with a smile.

During the holidays, the Silver Tones can be found at Westfield Valencia Town Center on select days and will travel to Pitchess Detention Center for a special Thanksgiving event for the inmates.

Swinford, a former teacher who’s acted as the music director since June after the passing of original founder Chip Johnson, personally chose the music for this year.

“I knew we’d be doing malls and other public venues, so there aren’t many carols that are sacred in nature. I’m trying to keep it to light and well-known songs,” he said.

Throughout the rest of the year, Swinford likes to change things up with jazz and samba selections or soundtrack selections, such as the theme from the James Bond film “Goldfinger.”

The Silver Belles even venture into bluegrass, country and rock territory.

“Nothing later than the 1990s, though. Elvis is still rock ’n’ roll to them,” Swinford said.

Wherever the groups go, the performances are always free.

“When we do big public performances, we’ll put out a table and jar for donations, which go to the center’s Home Delivered Meals program. There’s a real need for that service,” Swinford said.
Singing in the Silver Belles is “great therapy” to Pat Jackson, of Agua Dulce.

“I’m not in church, yet I wanted to sing. I sang in high school and missed it. I really enjoy it,” Jackson said.
So does Swinford.

“My heart is warmed by the enthusiasm and level of commitment here … and the fact that we put on a pretty good show,” he said. “It’s like a family.”

For more information on the Silver Belles, contact the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center at (661) 259-9444 or visit


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