Bringing Sunshine through Singing; WSC professors play music every Friday at local nursing home
Dec. 16, 2009 -- When Bill King’s mother suffered a stroke in 2001, conversation became nearly impossible, so they began to communicate through song.
Bill King, professor of English at Western, founded the Sunshine Singers after his mother suffered a stroke.
“After my mother’s stroke, her speech was heavily affected,” King said. “But I realized that she could sing nearly perfectly. So we began to sing together.”
King is a professor of English at Western, and plays the guitar and harmonica.
Later a friend, Andy Keck, professor at mathematics at Western, would come along to the Gunnison Living Community, where King's mother was staying, and play his mandolin.
“Then it just started building, more singers and more musicians started joining us,” King added. “Now we have a large group called the Sunshine Singers, with a good crowd.”
The Sunshine Singers is a collaboration of local musicians who perform every Friday afternoon at the Gunnison Living Community. Anyone is welcome, and the audience consists mostly of residents of the Gunnison Living Community.
King shared that the one common thread in the Sunshine Singers is that many of the musicians have lost loved ones. King’s mother, Dorris, died two years ago but the Sunshine Singers still live on.
The group can be large, with sometimes a dozen musicians performing for 30 people. The music is not always polished, but being a professional act is not the aim of the group.
“It is a mission of love,” King said.
Al Caniff, professor of art at Western, plays with the Sunshine Singers. He said that everyone involved has a good heart and soul to play week after week.
Jeanie Woodbury, assessment coordinator at the Gunnison Living Community, has enjoyed watching the Sunshine Singers grow since the beginning. She said that the group is now an “institution.”
“In addition to enjoying the music, it gives residents something to talk about later on,” Woodbury said. “They can discuss with others what songs they liked, and what performance they liked. It provides an avenue for conversation.”
Jenni Seaman, life enrichment coordinator at the Gunnison Living Community, shared similar thoughts.
“Sunshine Singers has always been the one big event here,” she said.
“One of my favorite things is to watch people who can’t communicate through the speech can communicate through music. It’s amazing to watch someone who has dementia who can’t speak their name, but can sing all the words to ‘You are my Sunshine’.”
Music varies with the season. During the holidays they play Christmas music, over St. Patrick’s Day they play Irish music. ‘You are my Sunshine’ is always the first song and ‘When the Saints Go Marching Home’ is the closer.
Phoebe Cranor, a local writer and poet, is a resident of the Gunnison Living Community who loves the Sunshine Singers. “The songs vary from very spiritual songs to silly ones,” she remarked.
Cranor even performs a humorous antidote or story herself. Beyond the music and the laughter it is the individuals in the Sunshine Singers who keep her coming back week after week.
“It is 45 minutes of my life that go whizzing by,” Cranor said. “I like the singing, the camaraderie and how they involve the audience. Everybody likes it. It’s just a wonderful experience.”
Story by: Luke Mehall, assistant director of public relations and communications