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Every Monday night, a group of seniors meets at Temple Beth Shalom in Cherry Hill for choir rehearsal. But you won’t hear hymns or prayers – you’ll probably hear rock ‘n’ roll.

“Rock ‘n’ roll can speak to the heart, you know,” says Gilah Lewis Sietz, who started the group known as Al’s ChorAL six years ago. She ticks off bands the choir covers: Queen, The Beach Boys, The Beatles, The Civil Wars, even Pharrell’s “Happy.” “I prefer music from artists like Eric Clapton, Pink Floyd and Guns ‘n’ Roses, but we do what the group wants,” she laughs.

Choir Director Anne-Marie Mendonca and pianist Alex Ayala

The choir is aided by director Anne-Marie Mendonca and pianist Alex Ayala

It’s no ordinary band of seniors, and Al’s ChorAL is no ordinary choir. Sietz organized the choir in memory of her father, the late Rabbi Albert Lewis. “He was a giant in the community,” she says. “When he first came to South Jersey in 1948, he was shocked that there was no interfaith council. ‘How will we make this a strong community if we’re not speaking to one another?’ he asked. After he passed, I wanted to do something to honor his legacy.”

Knowing her father’s fondness for music, Sietz formed Al’s ChorAL for seniors – no auditions required. You only have to enjoy singing.

That was good news for Marlton’s Jean Slover, who joined in January.

“I don’t even sing in the shower,” she says. “I think I sound better when I’m singing with people!”

Slover, who comes from a Methodist faith background, was attracted to the idea of an interfaith choir, where religion could be discussed, but was never the focus.

“It’s a family of interfaith people,” she says. “At first it was something for me to do. But we’ve become a family organization. It allowed me to make new friends and learn something new about my old friends I never knew before.”

The 35 members of Al’s ChorAL (a number always in flux) act like a family too – they organize rides and carpools to make sure everyone can make it to rehearsals and shows. The group performs at festivals and retirement homes, where sing-a-longs are a hit. Sietz says she’s happy the group is carrying on her father’s legacy of graciousness and respect.

“We like to share the love,” she says. “We like to give them a feel-good feeling about themselves. We try to create a wonderful environment in the community.”

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