Paul Demer surveyed the small audience assembled in the dining room at a Fort Worth nursing home.
The 23-year-old Arlington singer/songwriter recognized the faces of several resident from his previous visit and knew the type of music these seniors might relate to and enjoy.
Chording his guitar, he began his 45-minute concert with a tune deeply embedded in our popular culture.
It’s an old song, a campfire song, a lullaby.
In the spring of 2013, when tornado sirens wailed in Moore, Okla., the staff of a day care center hustled a group of children into two bathrooms and prayerfully sang the chorus, over and over, to calm them.
You are my sunshine, my only sunshine
You make me happy when skies are gray
Emotional sunshine is like vitamin D. It’s a basic need, a requirement of every human heart.
Perhaps the neediest among us are the elderly, especially those confined to institutions and burdened by physical or mental health issues that require long-term care.
Some have outlived family and friends.
Many feel lonely, forgotten, useless, lost.
After Demer finished You Are My Sunshine, he once again witnessed music’s life-affirming power when he launched into a bouncy children’s gospel song.
By the second verse of This Little Light of Mine, the performer wasn’t singing solo.
The residents had formed a choir.
“Let it shine!” they sang along. “Let it shine! “Let it shine!”
Paul Demer is a member of Texas Winds Musical Outreach. About 70 professional musicians affiliated with the nonprofit organization take their voices and instruments — violins, flutes, French horns and other orchestral instruments — to nursing and retirement homes, senior centers, adult day care, hospitals and Head Start schools in Dallas and Tarrant counties.
They share their talents and friendship with those who have little opportunity to experience the joy of live music.
“Music,” Demer said, “is language of the heart.”
He has given about 400 Texas Winds concerts over the last five years, including a recent appearance at the Fort Worth Veterans Affairs Outpatient Clinic, the busy, sprawling complex where patients receive prescription medications and services that range from eye care to hearing aid adjustments to prosthetics.
Demer began by thanking every veteran for his or her sacrifice and service to our country.
Like other Texas Winds participants, Demer feels as if he receives as much, if not more, than he gives.
He met a stroke victim who no longer could speak but somehow managed to voice the lyrics of almost every song he played.
He experienced the joy of singing Happy Birthday to three women who were born within the same week 100 years ago.
Mike Jacobs was born Mendel Jakubowicz.
During World War II the Nazis sent his parents, two brothers and two sisters to the gas chamber. The Polish teen spent five years in ghettos and labors camps at Auschwitz, Birkenau and Mathausen-Gusen. When liberated, in 1945, he weighed 70 pounds.
Before Jacobs died two years ago, at age 89, this man who founded the Dallas Holocaust Museum heard Demer’s mellow voice during a concert at Caregivers Day Out, a program at Temple Shalom in Dallas for caregivers and their loved ones with early stages of Alzheimer’s or related dementia.
“Paul’s music woke [Jacobs] up,” said Barbara Glazer, the program’s coordinator.
“Music touches people with dementia like nothing else. We have ‘wow’ moments like that — and tears, too — all the time.”
In 1985, Catherine Barr and members of her woodwind quintet performed at a Dallas nursing home. That experience became the genesis for an organization that has grown beyond all expectation.
“Once we started, and saw what a great need there was, it took on a life of its own,” said Barr, the group’s executive director.
Texas Winds, in its 32nd season, will perform 1,724 concerts this year, which will reach 142,000 people in North Texas. The organization is fully funded through grants and individual gifts.
Bill Hobbs of Arlington has made a donation the last two years and pledges to continue his support for the rest of his life. In late summer 2013, Texas Winds violinist Victor Koszman appeared at Keller Oaks Healthcare Center and performed for patients in the dining room.
Hobbs attended the concert.
Afterward, he approached the artist.
“Thank you so much. I really enjoyed it,” Hobbs said gratefully. “I just wish my wife could have heard it.”
Hobbs returned to the room where the love of his life for 46 years, and an accomplished pianist, lay bedridden, eyes closed, gravely ill.
Moments later, Koszman appeared in the doorway.
“One of God’s angels,” Bill Hobbs called him.
Koszman stepped to the foot of the bed.
Lifting his bow, the violinist, a member of the Dallas Opera Orchestra. began to play, a serenade for her and her alone.
For 20 minutes — sacred minutes — the sterile room overflowed with eternal melodies of the world’s greatest classical composers, Mozart being Dottie’s favorite.