Singing is the focus for local seniors in Shelton Songsters

Joe Tantolo, who will celebrate his 96th birthday next month, looks forward to singing a solo rendition of "Indian Love Call" at the October concert of the Shelton Songsters.

Jeannette McDonald and Nelson Eddy sang the song in the 1936 film version of the Broadway musical, Rose-Marie, and it played a central part in Tantolo’s 75-year marriage. “It’s so dear to my heart,” he said.

Tantolo’s wife Marguerite died this past February and both had been huge fans of MacDonald and Eddy.

“When we were 17, Eddy and MacDonald were the highest paid singers in the world,” Tantolo said, and "Indian Love Call" was a standard in their repertoire.

According to legend, two Indians were in love, but came from warring tribes. Their love affair was found out and they were put to death.

But their spirits lived on, and “through the forest you’d hear him calling her,” Tantolo said.

“My wife and I would play along,” he said, singing the line “When I’m calling you, will you answer too?”

Performs first solo with the group

Tantolo, who’s lived in Shelton for more than 30 years, sang his first solo, "Enjoy Yourself," with the Shelton Songsters this past year.

Music plays a central role in his life, as it does for others in the singing group.

“I like to sing,” said Ron Goddard, 73, who directs the chorus along with his wife, Betty Goddard. “They claim it’s good for the lungs.”

Most members in their 70s

The Shelton Songsters, who rehearse and perform at the Shelton Senior Center on Wheeler Avenue, are comprised of up to 30 people ranging in age from 55 to 95. Most are in their 70s.

“The group has been growing every year,” Goddard said. “We enjoy ourselves and have a good time. We don’t expect perfect pitch.”

There are three performances a year, and the next, on Oct. 22 at 1 p.m., will feature music from Disney films, shows and cartoons.

At the Aug. 27 rehearsal, the choristers sang along with music that Betty Goddard had recorded on a CD.

The singers sang from sheets of lyrics to such songs as "When You Wish Upon A Star," "Give A Little Whistle" and "Chim Chim Cheree." and Ray Hofbauer rehearsed his solo "I’ll be Your Candle on the Water."

Pianist 'is like a magician'

The group’s pianist, David Scrimenti, joins the group in rehearsals closer to the date of the show. Singers have nothing but praise for their accompanist. “He’s fantastic,” said Ron Goddard.

“Dave is like a magician,” said Betty Goddard. “Amazing isn’t even the right word.”

Scrimenti, an Ansonia resident, has been involved with music at the Shelton Senior Center for 20 years and serves as pianist and music director for the Shelton Songsters.

“It’s for fun,” he said. “We try to make it sound good. I listen and correct anything that’s wrong. I try to teach them, helping them get notes or rhythm correctly.”

Scrimenti, who is blind, started playing the organ at age 7 or 8. “I liked the sounds the organ could make,” he said.

“I got interested in classical music and started playing the piano at age 17. Everybody in my family is musical. Everybody took piano lessons. Piano teachers wouldn’t teach me,” he said, thinking they couldn’t teach someone who couldn’t read music.

But Scrimenti’s family found a teacher in Rosa Rio, a renowned theater and motion picture organist, who ran a music school in Connecticut. “We went to Rosa, and she had no problem,” Scrimenti said.

In addition to accompanying the Shelton Songsters, he plays organ at St. Andrew’s Church in Milford and plays for Mary Morrow and the Heavenly Gospel Singers.

Lifelong love of music

As with Scrimenti, Ron Goddard’s musical talents are far-reaching. He has sung all his life in choirs and has performed solos for the past 20 years at weddings and funerals.

He sings with the Grace Lutheran Choir in Stratford, the Derby Melodeers, the Wednesday Afternoon singers, based in Fairfield, and with the chorus at the Monroe Senior Center.

Goddard grew up in Bridgeport, retired from Sikorsky Aircraft and found out about the Shelton Songsters when he started playing pinochle at the senior center.

Ed Gawitt, an Oxford resident, said he enjoys singing with the Songsters because “it’s varied music and a lot of nice people.”

Gawitt also sings with the Melodeers and with the Yankee Male Chorus and the Barnstormers Men’s Chorus. “Music is important,” he said.

'It's just part of my life'

Pat Hammer, 76, a Shelton resident, said she’s been singing “all my life. It’s just part of my life. I can’t not sing.”

She’s been a member of the Songsters for about 12 years. “I’ve enjoyed it,” she said. “I’ve made lifelong friends.”

Goddard joined the Shelton Songsters seven years ago, taking over this past year for Gerry Folsom, who left for health reasons. When Folsom was in a local rehabilitation center, the Songsters “took the show to him,” Goddard said.

“We were fortunate to have Ron and Betty take over,” said Kathy Ramia, senior center director.

Three shows a year

The group performs three concerts a year, in the fall, during the holidays and in the spring.

Concerts also include skits and costumes, and recent performances include “Remembering the 50’s,” “Around the World in 60 Minutes,” and a country western program.

Buses bring audience members from area senior centers and assisted living facilities. “It’s a nice event,” Ramia said. “It’s an afternoon treat.”

Tantolo said he found out about the Songsters when his wife was a patient at Hewitt Health & Rehabilitation Center in Shelton.

“I used to go around to the rooms and sing to make people feel better,” he said. “People who were morose were feeling better when I left.”

Turned around and sang

One day, he met up with Doreen and Bill Muldoon, Songster members. The Muldoons were standing behind him at the reception desk,

“I turned around and started singing 'Let Me Call You Sweetheart,'” Tantolo said. “They had recently been married. The encouraged me to come and sing with the Songsters.”

It’s a decision he hasn’t regretted. “It’s nice to sing with different people,” he said. “I love music.”

Those interested in joining the Shelton Songsters may call Goddard at 203-929-4371 or the senior center at 203-924-2355. Rehearsals are Wednesdays at 12:30 p.m.