Janie Berry

Janie Berry, shown here conducting members of The Villages Choralettes during her first rehearsal in 2016, is stepping down as the director of the women's chorus.

After four years, Janie Berry’s stint as director of The Villages Choralettes has come to a close.

The main reason for this decision is medical: she has severe deteriorating osteoarthritis in her shoulder, making it hard for her to lift her arms to conduct.

“I just figured it was time,” said Berry, of the Village of Glenbrook.

Berry was going reveal the news during a luncheon at the church, but the coronavirus forced the event to cancel. She ended up calling or emailing the members with the news.

“Janie was an inspiration,” said Margaret Lacy, who is taking over as director. “She just threw her whole self into it. I loved watching her face when she directed.”

Berry isn’t leaving the group entirely. She will rejoin the choir to add her voice from the other side of the conductor’s stand.

“I can always sing,” Berry said. “(The shoulder) doesn’t bother my singing.”

Berry first discovered the Choralettes almost five years ago through a friend who had invited her to a rehearsal.

“I liked the music and the girls were very friendly,” Berry said. “I fit in wherever they needed me.”

One of those spots was helping out former director Anita Misso with conducting duties. When Misso moved away, Berry slipped into the director’s chair.

“The girls were already familiar with me,” Berry said. “It was an easy transition.”

After taking over, Berry taught the members how to read music, then asked them to share any other talents, whether it was dancing or acting.

“They understood what these notes meant,” Berry said. “That was kind of nice.”

Her time with the group has shown that it is more than just a gathering of women.

“It’s a sisterhood,” Berry said. “We became very close. I’ve been in choirs where people don’t talk to each other, giving each other bad looks.

“We don’t expect perfection. Just do the best you can and enjoy it. They feel good about the accomplishment.”

Berry had quite a bit of experience in directing before landing the position with the Choralettes. She served as choir director for several churches in the cities she lived in.

She used music when she taught autistic and severely disabled high school students, and her church choirs visited nursing homes to sing for Alzheimer’s patients.

“You could see the transformation (in the patients),” Berry said. “We sang old hymns that they might have sung in their childhood days. They would start singing, and they hadn’t utter a word in years.

“I began to see the power of music and how it could reach the unreachable, how we could use it as a way to connect and bring them out, if only for a little bit,” she said. “Music is God’s gift. If you use it right, you can reach people who are unreachable.”

Berry’s interest in singing started around the age of 4. Her grandfather, a Methodist preacher, visited sick patients, and Berry used to sing to them.

“I had a very loud voice,” she said.

Now that voice gets to return to the mix of the Choralettes.

“We’re going to miss her as a director,” Lacy said. “She had her own special way.”

Staff Writer Michael Fortuna can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5273, or michael.fortuna@thevillagesmedia.com.