University of Delaware
Office of Public Relations
The Messenger
Vol. 5, No. 2/1996
Senior sounds

     It's every music teacher's dream: Jessica Davidson, Delaware
'72, never has to remind the singers and musicians in her
ensembles to practice. They happily devote hours to learning
their parts.
     But, that comes with the territory, she says, when your
youngest player is just shy of 60 and your oldest is 96.
     "It's very gratifying," says the former band and chorus
teacher who now directs the non-profit Davidson Senior Music
Program of Central Kentucky. "Older adults are more precise. They
want to make sure everything is just right. They will work their
heads off to do that in a rehearsal. They will practice and
practice and practice."
     Davidson, who now leads nearly 65 older musicians in four
different ensembles, has gleaned these insights from her many
years of professional experience and from personal experience:
She is herself a senior citizen.
     "What it says to all of us is that you have a long life to
live and you have a lot to look forward to," says Davidson. "I
was older at the time I started in on this, but there were still
a lot of things I had misconceptions about, thinking that older
people couldn't do many things. As I got older myself, I found
out differently. In many cases, you could do better because you
had more time and greater experience."
     Time is something Davidson devotes generously to the
program, which features the ever-popular Young-At-Heart Jazz
Ensemble with its 96-year-old saxophonist, as well as an
orchestra, chorus and folk ensemble. Each ensemble rehearses at
least once a week, with additional practices in the weeks leading
to a major performance. Davidson not only conducts each group and
accompanies them on piano, but also books their engagements and
coordinates their travel arrangements.
     Many of her performers enjoyed successful careers as
professional musicians or were themselves music educators.
Davidson's main soloist in the chorus, for example, is Othello
Pumphrey, a tenor known as "Mr. Music," who sang professionally
for many years in New York and for the U.S. Navy.
     Davidson's groups have become a popular staple at community
events, veterans' hospitals and nursing homes. Each spring, they
also take a road trip to a music educators' conference, senior
citizens' seminar or other special event.
     This year, they expect to head to Memphis in early May for
Expo '96, a senior event. Past destinations have included
Chicago, New Orleans, Montreal, Orlando and St. Louis. The trips
are a high point for Davidson and company.
     "We performed at Loyola University in New Orleans about five
years ago," she recalls, "and, afterwards, at 11 o'clock at
night, we were all walking up and down Bourbon Street, having the
best time."
     Music has been a positive force for Davidson throughout her
life. When she was 4, she began taking piano lessons from her
mother, who had studied piano at a music conservatory. In high
school, she studied piano, organ, music theory and violin. She
first attended the State University of New York at Potsdam before
earning her bachelor's degree in music education from the
University of Delaware.
     She lived in Newark, Del., for many years, raising two
daughters and working as a music teacher and band and chorus
leader. She earned a master's degree in music education from West
Chester University and a doctorate in the same field from the
University of Maryland.
     Davidson first applied to the University of Kentucky Council
of Aging for a job to start her music program, and it has since
evolved into an independent organization.  Members pay $50 in
annual dues to cover the cost of music and other expenses. Two
large garage sales help offset travel costs.
     "Being older myself, I can relate to them and I enjoy all of
it so much," she says. "It's a wonderful thing to have a non-
commercial program. The singers and musicians are doing this
because they want to do it. They enjoy being together, having
that relationship. We have a wonderful time, and I wouldn't trade
jobs with anybody."
                               -Robert DiGiacomo, Delaware '88