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The Gift of Song

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— February 25, 2019

The Gift of Song

By Violet Snow
  • The staff at Natures Plus sings for the community as a way to give back and spread happiness.
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NaturesPlus employees share their musical talents.

Singing for Seniors

“Music gets to your heart and opens you up,” said Shari Allen, NaturesPlus vice president of Sales and Marketing. “It can bring back memories and make you cry and laugh. It’s therapeutic.” Allen is among several company employees who have used their musical talent to give to others. She’s never had formal training, but Allen has loved to sing since childhood when she was captivated by Judy Garland’s version of “Over the Rainbow.” Anthony Napolitano, director of Sales Administration, sang in high school and college. Working together in the sales department, they discovered their shared passion for singing. “‘Sharioke’ was the start of our musical partnership,” recalls Napolitano. At weeklong annual meetings at the California ranch of late CEO Gerald Kessler, the company’s sales team worked hard, but there wasn’t much recreational activity until Allen brought in a karaoke system. They had a “battle of the sales regions,” with reps and managers. Even Kessler would get up and sing. Allen and Napolitano went on to sing a few songs during dinner and then began presenting a show at every annual sales meeting, complete with costume changes and lighting. “It fulfilled that need to sing and get out on stage,” Napolitano says. More recently, his college roommate, who was running an assisted-living facility, invited them to sing for the residents. With a repertoire from Sinatra to Broadway to classic rock, the seniors would always know the words to some of the songs. “People’s spouses would come up with tears in their eyes,” recounts Allen, “saying, ‘I don’t know the last time my husband or wife sang a song. You ignited that in them.’” They have continued to play at the facility and at an Alzheimer’s charity event. “The joy we get from doing it,” says Allen, “is enormous.”

Piping to Comfort and Honor

Coworkers of Peggy Gould, manager of Sundry Accounting, know about her bagpiping skills because they hear the ethereal sounds of her practicing in the parking lot. Gould has always loved the pipes but didn’t learn to play until she was turning 50. Her brother and his children were members of an Irish band at the American Legion Hall in Lindenhurst, and the band offered to teach her to play. Their band has accompanied the 69th Infantry at the head of the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Manhattan, they’ve performed at fundraisers, and Gould has played outside the windows of her mother’s rehab center, to the delight of residents and their families. But her most memorable piping experience came when her group, American Celtic Pipe Band (americanceltic.org), surprised veterans from Hope for the Warriors on a 100-mile fundraising run across Long Island. Learning the group would pass through town in the wee hours, the band lined up along the highway. They began to play when they could see the motorcade lights in the distance. “The nearer they approached, the more emotional it became,” Gould recalls, until the runners passed by, cheering wildly. “Our talents are given to us to share for others’ enjoyment, or perhaps comfort, or to honor them,” Gould says. “My reward is always derived from the impact my playing has had on others.”

Entertaining Veterans

Barry Simon, Discover Life art director, is a founding member of Strange But Surf (strangebutsurf.com), a surf band that twice opened for the B-52s, once at the Capitol Theater in Port Chester, New York, and later at The Theater at Westbury, on Long Island. Those high-profile gigs are not surprising to anyone who has seen Simon feverishly dissect new songs, tackle some intense element of music theory or get excited about a new piece of equipment that will help him create a new sound or stitch together a song— while playing all instruments—on his home computer. He approaches music like a professional and owns 10 guitars, acoustic and electric, as well as countless accessories. Simon started as a drummer at age 7 and lately has been learning piano on his own. And his passion for music is not limited to playing—he builds lap steel box guitars (simonlapsteel.com), combining his artistic and musical talents. Strange But Surf has also performed at restaurants, bars and museums, but Simon’s two recent gigs at the Long Island State Veterans Home at Stony Brook University have opened up a new and satisfying outlet. For the vets, he formed a duo, The Barrytones (the barrytones.com), playing guitar with bass player Tony Biancardi. “We did mellow music,” Simon recalls. “Beatles, Cat Stevens, Hank Williams. They really responded.”

Joy from Rhythm & Tunes

Allan Richter, associate publisher and editor of Discover Life, has some fond musical memories. Among these was playing a couple of songs with musician John Cohen of the pioneering folk band The New Lost City Ramblers—an influence on Bob Dylan—after an interview for a writing project. But it’s more special to play for people who need music to lift them at that moment, Richter says, such as when he joined Discover Life Art Director Barry Simon on a few songs at the veteran’s home at Stony Brook University. Near Richter was a World War II veteran with a plastic bag of harmonicas. “For each song,” Richter says, “he would pick out a harmonica in the right key and play along quietly. He was pretty darn good.” Richter has been playing music since childhood and joined bands in high school. He plays keyboards, guitar, mandolin, and percussion, as well as a dulcimer he built. A fan of exotic sounds, he owns several rainsticks and brought back a didgeridoo from a trip to Australia. When Richter’s daughters were in Hebrew school, he helped the school’s music students form a band and led them on trips to play at senior centers. Students not adept at an instrument brought along shakers to hand out to the seniors and helped them join in. “Music should be available to everyone,” he says, “and rhythm can provide the first access point to its magic.” At the senior centers, the students played secular songs as well as Jewish holiday songs, for Passover, for example. “The tears of elderly residents who hadn’t heard those holiday songs in decades are etched in my memory,” he adds. (That student group later morphed into an adult band and continues to perform for seniors.) Last Thanksgiving, Richter’s mother was in a rehab facility and couldn’t be at his home. So Richter, with guitar in tow, brought the festivities to her by playing a surprise concert for her and the other seniors. He loves seeing the elders, who are often not very mobile, tapping along to the beat and smiling. “You don’t get immediate feedback as a writer and editor, but you do get an instant reaction when you perform music for an audience,” Richter says. “That’s very gratifying, especially when it’s an audience that can greatly benefit from the power of music.”

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