Choosing the songs was a group effort. We decided that collectively, we as a family of singers, know many, many songs. Because of that fact, we realized that we were not the best judge of which songs would be considered "common knowledge" and would work well in a sing-along. We needed songs that the residents would remember and have a connection to.
We decided to choose songs that would have been popular or at least written in the 1950's and early 1960's when these elderly people would have been young adults. We started looking through collections of popular songs during those years. The love songs we gravitated towards turned out to be mostly show tunes from Broadway Musicals that had been made into movies like Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Oklahoma," and "State Fair." We also opted for pop songs made famous by entertainers such as Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. And, we included a few perennial favorites that were just plain fun to sing like "A" You're Adorable," "You Are My Sunshine," and "Let Me Call You Sweetheart."
As the piano player, my job was to figure out SINGABLE KEYS so that most people could join in comfortably. As a singing family, we don't really care what key the melody range falls into because we can all sing harmony. But, most people just sing the MELODY. (What a strange concept!)
I am always astonished that so many songs published in these Song Collections are written in UN-SINGABLE KEYS and have really uninspiring piano accompaniments! The pianists out there must appreciate playing in the keys of C, D, G, B flat or F with few sharps or flats, but really? What may be easier for the pianist can be so uncomfortable for the singers. The TESSITURA of these songs lays just too high or too low for a normal singer. Since I was in no mood to have to transpose the entire program of songs, I made the final cuts. I culled 10 songs from our longer list, using those that had the most moderate ranges, then transposed a few of the simpler ones into better keys.
Another astonishing aspect of the evening was comparing the melody as written in the "published" version to the melody sung according to the group's collective memory. Sometimes a melody polished "by committee" is much better. It was a revelation!
Our evening of Love Songs and Show Tunes went very well. The residents seemed to enjoy singing with us some of the love songs they remembered from their youth.