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  • Marian Hubler

Bread & Roses Helps Seniors Focus on Joy Through Live Music

A recent article in the New York Times “Want to Be Happy? Think Like An Old Person” by John Leland (Dec. 29, 2017) talks about elders who routinely focus on things they can still do and find rewarding, rather than on their declining abilities. It’s a lesson for all of us, he says, on how to achieve higher levels of contentment.

He goes on to discuss what gerontologists have long called “the paradox of old age: that as people’s minds and bodies decline, instead of feeling worse about their lives, they feel better. In memory tests, they recall positive images better than negative…”

The author noted that as he visited the older people he interviewed, he noticed they “all spent their energy on the things they could still do that brought them satisfaction, not on what they had lost to age.”

Bread & Roses excels in bringing its senior audiences what the author called “small joys to ease their aches.” Our founder, the late Mimi Fariña was inspired to name our organization Bread & Roses from the poem written by James Oppenheim in 1912 that spoke of the mill-workers need for “small art and love and beauty” to lift their drudging spirits and of their cry “Yes – it is bread we fight for – but we fight for roses, too!”

We are fortunate to have a wide variety of performers sharing their music with our senior audiences around the Bay Area. Diverse artists like nationally touring performer Korby Lenker from Nashville to East Bay stalwarts Syria Berry and William Greene to dynamic duo Gail Muldrow and Reggie Austin as well as many wonderful groups of youth performers including Marin Girls Chorus, San Domenico Advanced Vocal Ensemble, Lick Wilmerding Chamber Group and the Urban School Orchestra always bring upbeat concerts.

At a recent Bread & Roses show at Fruitvale Healthcare Center in Oakland, Vice President of Programs Carolyn Gauthier reported, “Michael McNevin did a wonderful show at this facility, which is a very full (three to a room) Medical-supported convalescent home with many long-term residents. Most of the audience was in wheel chairs, and many were amputees.

He brought a ray of sunshine with his familiar songs and humor. After opening up with Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl," he played one tune after another, which got folks singing along. Michael is a natural performer, moving seamlessly between different genres. He took requests for songs by Bob Dylan, Kenny Loggins and Elvis Presley. His jokes were clean and silly. He said that in his case, a groan is as good as a laugh.”

Carolyn shared a few of the comments written by the audience afterwards.

I especially enjoyed the performer's beautiful voice, stance, outfit, guitar playing and song selection.

I felt truly blessed. It made me feel good to be alive.

It made me feel so happy! He sang the music I liked.

I liked the player's enthusiasm and his selection of tunes. It meant a lot, since I can't get out to experience live arts.

We appreciate all the performers who bring hope, healing and joy through live music and the performing arts to our many audiences around the Bay Area. Of the 635 shows we presented last year, over 200 programs were for seniors in assisted living, skilled nursing or senior day facilities.

Photo Captions:

1) Korby Lenker at CEI Berkeley PACE Center, Dec 2017. Photo by Peter Merts.

2) Gail Muldrow and Reggie Austin at Josie Barrow Center, Sept 2016. Photo by Peter Merts.

3) Marin Girls Chorus at The Redwoods, March 2017. Photo by Peter Merts

4) Michael McNevin. Photo by Janet James.

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