With the sun shining outside and warm spirits inside, the Victory Chorus gave its first performance on Sunday afternoon in Duluth.
The chorus, supported by the Victory Fund and Dementia Friendly Duluth, comprises 10 participants with dementia or Alzheimer's disease along with 30 volunteer singers or family members.
Sunday's concert at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Duluth capped off several months of rehearsals and a vision several years in the making. The idea for the Victory Chorus came after organizers saw a similar choral group in the Twin Cities.
After conducting a community survey, the effort seemed to be a good fit for Duluth, said Mimi Stender, Victory Chorus program manager and Dementia Friendly Duluth director.
"(We needed) a program that encourages community engagement, and sharing gifts through music, with a main goal — and this is the most important — to create moments of joy," she said. "This is the Victory Chorus, a mindful musical journey."
A planning committee began laying the groundwork for Duluth's own chorus in 2017, with group rehearsals beginning this past January.
"We're here because of you," Stender said. "You took this giant leap of faith to travel this 12-week journey with us, and we are so grateful."
After introductions, Victory Fund Executive Director Kathy Heimbach read a proclamation from Duluth Mayor Emily Larson designating May 5 as "Victory Chorus Day" in Duluth.
Then it was time to sing.
Led by music director Karen Bauman and accompanist Gina Bortnem, the chorus performed seven songs, from "What a Wonderful World" to Neil Diamond's "Song Sung Blue" to "The Dandelion," based on an Austrian melody.
Chorus participants introduced each song with a note about its composer or writer. After each piece, applause resonated through the church. Some audience members were visibly moved to tears.
As the concert concluded and staff readied coffee for a social hour to follow, Heimbach thanked the audience.
"You're making history with us; you are making Duluth dementia-friendly," she said. "You're bringing joy and happiness - not just to the people in the choir, but you will take this home with you."
There was time for one last song - a theme song for the Victory Chorus: "Community," set to the tune of "Amazing Grace." Bauman asked the audience to join in.
"Community, how sweet the sound
That makes me feel at home
I once was lost but now am found
No more am I alone."
Starting June 9, a new group of Victory Chorus participants will begin rehearsals for the group's next concert, scheduled for Aug. 4. Participants and volunteers may sign up at dementiafriendlyduluth.org/the-victory-chorus, with volunteer training set for May 30.