They say it’s wonderful

Hyperbole alert! Music is magic. It can work wonders. It connects people. It moves and inspires. It stirs memories. I somehow inherently understood all of this when I was bopping my little ten year old head to “Sir Duke” on my crappy record player. Or rocking out to my older brother’s Led Zeppelin records. Of course, the soul-numbing realities of adulthood can make you stop believing in magic. Or the power of music.

So I was a bit surprised at some of the reactions I got when I first started playing senior centers. Catatonic old ladies with heads drooped sedately on their chests would start to perk up. As I sang to people on locked-down dementia floors, folks who probably don’t recognize their own loved ones would mouth the lyrics word-for-word with me. Here is a striking example of this power that made the rounds on the Internet a while back.

At the end of my visits, I always ask the residents if they have a favorite song I can learn for next time. Gladys wanted me to play “They Call The Wind Mariah.” She lives in a large senior complex with so many residents that they rotate me through a couple floors each month. So it’s usually four months between visits to any given floor. When the time came to hit Gladys’ floor again I was in the middle of a busy week. I forgot to check my notes for requests until late the night before I was supposed to play. When I saw her request I’m sorry to say I tiredly blew it off, thinking “she’ll never remember anyway.”

When I got to Gladys’ floor, I spotted her right away and went over to say hello.

“Hi, Gladys. How are you doing?”

“Oh, I’m pretty good.”

Then without missing a beat she asked “Did you learn that song ‘They Call The Wind Mariah’ for me?”

After getting over my shock and shame, I apologized and promised to play it next time (which I did). Ever since then I’ve taken my musical responsibility a little more seriously.

By the way, the shot above (and those in my new gallery) were taken by Mark Wojahn, a filmmaker and photographer who was kind enough to donate his services when he heard what I was doing. I guess volunteering is contagious. Thanks, Mark.

“They Say It’s Wonderful”, by Irving Berlin for the musical Annie Get Your Gun (1946). Covered by everyone from Sara Vaughan to Doris Day, but my version was inspired by to Johnny Hartman’s rendition with ‘Trane.
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