The room was the size of a small gymnasium. The audience grew as the residents were wheeled in by caregivers. The band set up, plugging in cords, playing chords, adjusting levels. Several clients took delight in the sound check, chirping “check, check” in an unintended call and response. The pre-concert buzz was nonexistent. Most folks stared stoically at the wheelchair ahead of them.
The magic was palpable when the music began. The Front Porch Band–a guitarist named Moon, a drummer, bass player and harmonica/lead singer–plays country, gospel and bluegrass. The set had songs that looked back on better times like Tennessee Waltz and King of the Road and tunes like I’ll Fly Away and Never Grow Old that held a future hope. The lady on my left kept her eyes closed but sang her heart out. A handsome gentleman in front of me repeatedly jabbed his index finger in the air whenever the lyrics resonated with him. After I’ve Got a Mansion Just Over the Hilltop one white-haired woman pumped the air with fists upraised. Yep, passion still resides in these residents.
I was at this nursing home gig because the drummer/back up singer is my rock star sister-in-law. As she approached sixty, Karyl Lynn wanted to do something. What to do? When she told my brother she had always wanted to play the drums, he encouraged her to pursue her desire. She found a drum teacher in the classifieds, posted a notice on a radio station–Grandma taking drum lessons, needs drum–, installed her new used drum set in the corner of the parlor, next to the grand piano. A few years later, when The Front Porch Band asked Karyl Lynn’s drum instructor to play in their band, he recommended my sister-in-law.
They play Monday morning gigs at nursing homes. Jim’s song introductions have perfect pitch: straight-forward, moderately upbeat, genuine. When the bass player sang a solo, Jim coached the audience to say, “Good job, Bob.”
Music is magic. It travels up hairline fissures of our emotions and reaches places we had forgotten about. Here are people with cirrhosis of the soul reduced to tears by a familiar tune. The sight of music stirring people moved me. After her first gig, Karyl Lynn said, “While I was fulfilling my dream, I looked into the eyes of people who had lost theirs.” When this gig ended the band members worked the room, shaking hands, looking into eyes, thanking residents for their attention. Playing the drums for an hour sapped the energy from Karyl Lynn, but facing the fatigued and diminished spirits of people was even more draining. Yet in giving folks a respite from their cares, she takes great joy.
No wonder this new avocation is so satisfying: it provides a challenge, an avenue to explore a new skill, a team to belong to, and the fulfillment of serving others. It makes me immensely proud of my rock star, drum-playing sister.