Have songs, will travel

Island musicians provide socially distant entertainment at Island Elderly Housing.


The coronavirus rules are wearing thin on most of us, including the Island elders. Singer-songwriter-musician Jemima James and support services coordinator for Island Elderly Housing Nora Wilcox put their heads and hearts together and came up with a wonderful idea — James, who serves on the IEH board, would schedule Island musicians to provide all the housing units with a socially distanced serenade. The program kicked off last Wednesday afternoon at Woodside Village with James, Rose Guerin, and Kate Taylor providing the songs, and Geordie Gude playing harmonica, with his dog Scout in tow.

“Nora asked if I would reach out to the music community, and I did, and I got a great response,” James said. “She had the plan of playing outside for people. We just needed to get those musicians who can play acoustically to join us, and it turns out, there’s a lot of them.”

Missus Biskis was scheduled to kick things off a couple of weeks ago, but will be rescheduled due to rainy weather. Coming up are Willy Mason, Phil daRosa, David Saw with Mike Benjamin, and more. James said the outdoor music will continue into October as long as weather allows.

At Woodside, the musicians played at least three songs outside each building to a small, socially distanced and masked audience, with some residents waving and clapping through their open windows.

The harmonies and the guitars blended like honey in a cup of hot tea as the small group sang some familiar and original songs, much to the delight of their listeners. Carol Loud came outdoors with her tambourine to join them outside her building, and the music set more than a few dogs to barking. They carried their guitars and a music stand from building to building.

Nora Wilcox declared the event a success on Friday when the Times talked to her by phone. “The residents were so delighted and happy,” Wilcox said. “They loved it, and they wanted more, of course.”

Since the coronavirus brought on this new normal, residents of all the Elderly Housing campuses have missed gathering together, Wilcox said. “I wanted to create an opportunity for people to connect in a positive way. They don’t have the ability to gather like they did in the past. While we can’t gather outside, you can open up the window, and the music might brighten up your day.”

The isolation elders feel has an impact on their day-to-day lives, she explained, and even though they can occasionally see others, they’re wearing masks, and the atmosphere is definitely different.

“Even if you do go out, people are wearing masks, and it feels disconnected and different, and our residents feel that absolutely,” Wilcox said. “We used to have a community dinner once a week, and that’s on hold now. It’s a very different landscape.”

Wilcox explained that while younger folks are adapting to life on Zoom and finding other ways to connect, elders aren’t as apt to use social media or computers to stay in touch. They may not own a computer, or they may not know how to use technology to communicate with friends and family. The residents are getting fewer visitors than before the pandemic hit, Wilcox said. With this new program, all the Elderly Housing residents can open their windows and let the music in if they want. The musicians will play every Wednesday at one of the residences — Hillside Village and Love House in Vineyard Haven, and Woodside Village and Aidylberg Village in Oak Bluffs.

“As I’ve gotten to know the residents, lots of people have a connection with music, either through a family member or from musical events 50 years ago,” Wilcox said. “Music is something everyone can enjoy and it’s accessible to everyone.”

For more information about Island Elderly Housing, visit iehmv.org.