MANKATO — The first chorus for people living with Alzheimer’s disease and their care takers in Greater Minnesota will launch in Mankato this fall.

Organized by the Mankato and North Mankato ACT on Alzheimer’s Team, the Singing Hills Chorus will be modeled after existing choruses in the Twin Cities.

Mankato’s chorus, which will first perform publically in December at The Chapel of Our Lady of Good Counsel, could compose of as many as 30 people with Alzheimer’s, 30 of their care partners and 20 volunteer singers once it’s established in September.

Sandy Lubrant, program director for the chorus and member of the local Alzheimer’s team, said a Stratis Health grant will help the program live up to its Twin Cities predecessor.

“It’s a lot of responsibility because we want to do it well and create an experience and a program that’s the same quality that we’ve seen in the Twin Cities program,” she said.

To do so, the team had to find a music director to head the production. In Kristin Ziemke, they found their leader.

Ziemke has been a part of the local Alzheimer’s team for years along with her work at Avenues Music Therapy. Her grandmother has the disease, which was part of what spurred her to get involved.

“I think the most exciting part is bringing something like this to town because it’s the first of its kind in Mankato,“ she said.

The program is as much about the social component of rehearsals as it is about the music. No matter their former singing or music experience, people are welcome to join the chorus and learn. With how isolating Alzheimer’s can be, the chorus gets people living with it back out in the community — front and center, even, come performance time.

“What we’re really striving for is social interaction and support,” Ziemke said.

Mary Lenard, co-president of the Giving Voice Initiative, said she sees the difference the music has on chorus members in the Twin Cities.

“This is one of the things people with Alzheimer’s can still do even when skills and capacities diminish,” she said.

She’s also seen the program grow in the Twin Cities from one chorus to three in recent years. Mary Margaret Lehmann and her husband, Ken, have been in the chorus since it started, and it’s become the highlight of their week. Ken, who has Alzheimer’s, even learned to read sheet music because of the practices.

“It is very uplifting for our spirit and the choir has become an incredible support community for each other,” she said.

Knowing people with Alzheimer’s and their families in Mankato will be able to experience the same joy this fall is a good feeling, Lehmann said.

“We’re very excited we’re able to share this wonderful experience with people with Alzheimer’s and people living with dementia in Mankato, too,” she said.

Lubrant encouraged anyone interested in joining the new chorus to visit www.singinghillschorus.org, or email katoactonalz@yahoo.com. She said the chorus, and the members who can benefit from it, should be able to thrive in a music-rich community like Mankato.

“Often the picture of the disease is of later stages,” she said. “But there really is a lot of time to have meaningful experiences in the community, and have purpose and build meaningful relationships.”