BEMIDJI, Minn. (WCCO) — Retirement means different things to different people.

For a group of seniors in northern Minnesota, it may mean the end of professional careers, but the beginning of making beautiful music together. In this week’s Finding Minnesota we go to Bemidji, where the First City Singers are putting on a first class show.

This group will tell you that singing really is good for the soul. And you can believe them, because they’ve done the research.

“We are all seniors, which is good. The whole room is vibrating with our sound. That’s what I love about it,” one singer said.

With their red blazers and wide smiles, the First City Singers are no ordinary group. They started small, and now there are more than 30 members. The whipper snapper of the choir is 57, and the oldest is 87. But they have had older.

“We had a fellow that was like 90 and he and Verna Mae, the one that sings in the bass, they would do a little dance. And he was a crooner. He had a really good voice,” Bev Burnham with the First City Singers said.

But what makes the group truly unique is what they do for other seniors. About five to seven times a month, the singers leave the confines of their rehearsal room and go on tour — sort of.

They visit an assisted living center. Once there, they let loose, they sing and sometimes they even boogie.

“We used to go dancing every Friday night. My husband and I, every Friday night,” Windsong resident Juliana Hommerding said.

“This brings back memories? Oh it does. I just love music,” John Hommerding said.

“They don’t care if we are good or we are bad and we can be both,” Louise Jackson with the First City Singers said. “There are so many people in Bemidji that need entertainment. They need to see people like them singing.”

The First City singers lift up residents, while they also lift up themselves.

Some of the members have lost a husband or a wife over the years, so the group provides both singing and healing powers. It also helps that their selections have no boundaries. They can sing songs from the 1920s to present day, including classics from Moon River to Simon and Garfunkel.

If the Rolling Stones were to call and say they want them to open up for one of their concerts, they say they would be up for the challenge.

But what they really want to do is stick to what they do best. And that’s to continue making music that’s not just good for the soul, but great.

“I wish more cities would have something like this because it has brightened up Bemidji quite a bit,” John Hommerding said.

The First City Singers practice at the Headwaters School of Music and Arts ever Monday at 1 p.m. A cool thing is that new members do not have to audition to join the group.

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John Lauritsen

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