The faces have changed over the years, but the songs remain the same.
Every Monday in extended care, and once a month at Rosewood Village and Columbia View Lodge, a group of 16 people gather because they love to go a-wandering and bring the golden oldies to Trail seniors who can’t get out anymore.
The Happy Wanderers are retired teachers, empty nesters, former industry and retail workers and many others from the area, all whom share a love of singing and bringing cheer to the city’s finest who now reside in a health care settings.
The group started with four women almost four decades ago. But they didn’t put a name to the informal choir until years later as membership grew and the familiar folk tune, with original text dating back to the late 1700s, was chosen as a fitting theme song.
Once Denis Plamondon retired almost 30 years ago, the well known Trail elementary school teacher was quick to join the group that he and wife Rose have been part of ever since.
“We just enjoy doing it especially when the people light up and sing,” said the 24-year Happy Wanderer chorister. “That’s where the Happy Wanderers came from, that’s our theme song because we are just there to enjoy the singing.”
Today the song roster is bound in red duo-tangs, and passed around at the beginning of each performance for a quick review because the choir doesn’t meet to rehearse.
However, after so many years of singing popular tunes like World War One’s “It’s a Long way to Tipperary” or “Let me Call you Sweetheart,” the singers instinctively know the lyrics and beat and so do the seniors in the crowd.
This week the choir members were decked in holiday-themed attire as they belted out Christmas tunes to a roomful of Poplar Ridge residents, most of whom were able to join in and sing the lyrics from memory and cheerfully clap their hands along with the guitar strumming of Mary Ann Penner, Ray Tenisci and Gerry Constantin.
Penner has been a choir member almost from the start, Tenisci is in his fourth year after 25-years with the Maple Leaf Band and Constantin is the most recent musician to join.
“I first started playing for seniors citizens, in another band, when my mother was living at Kiro Manor,” said Tenisci. “I like the old music and enjoy bringing back memories of the good ole days of nice lyrical music. A lot of them remember the songs and sing along.”
Research indicates that music therapy can improve physical comfort, lift the spirits and improve responses from those in late stages of dementia, although why this happens remains unanswered.
Karen Yamazaki has brought the extended care seniors together in weekly gathering of sing-alongs, percussion sessions and in some cases, one-on-one sharing of melodies for five years.
“Music itself is communication about emotion,” said Yamazaki. “For people who have difficulty speaking or dementia, when I play a song they’ll recognize it and start singing the chorus.
“Quite often a few songs seem to oil things and they are better able to express thoughts and ideas.”
As an accredited music therapist, Yamazaki uses the creative process inherent in musical participation to assist the seniors, many stricken with dementia and neurological disorders, to improve their mental, social, and emotional well-being.
“They haven’t figured out why it is working,” she said. “But seeing how these folks really focus in a music session and how they are alive and really bright is just wonderful to see.”