‘Arts to Elders’ free concert brings familiar music back into seniors’ lives

Mike and Val James share their love of music with elder care centers as therapy

Posted 1/8/20

Mike and Val James have witnessed firsthand the positive impact that music can have on people’s lives, which is why they’re so eager to share it.

Northwind Arts Center is affording the …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

E-mail
Password
Log in

‘Arts to Elders’ free concert brings familiar music back into seniors’ lives

Mike and Val James share their love of music with elder care centers as therapy

Posted

Mike and Val James have witnessed firsthand the positive impact that music can have on people’s lives, which is why they’re so eager to share it.

Northwind Arts Center is affording the Jameses an opportunity to provide “Arts to Elders” through a free concert hosted by Life Care of Port Townsend on Tuesday, Jan. 14, thanks to funding from the Rotary Club of Port Townsend and an anonymous donor.

The husband-and-wife duo have performed for a variety of audiences through concerts, festivals and private venues in the Pacific Northwest, and beyond, for more than 25 years.

The couple not only takes up guitars to perform as a duet, but also enjoys performing with a jazz trio in the Port Townsend area, with a broad spectrum of musical styles ranging from the 1940s through the 1980s, in genres including “American Songbook,” folk, jazz, maritime, songs for kids and blues influences.

Val’s mother, Margaret Lenhart, sang with Bing Crosby on the radio, and was a “ghost singer” in the movies, which instilled in Val a love of jazz standards, while Mike began singing jazz standards, show tunes and novelty songs as a child, for show-and-tell in kindergarten, before the folk revival of the 1960s gave him “a new source of joy.”

Val extolled the therapeutic benefits of music from earlier eras, which she can attest has helped connect older people with the eras of their youth, while Mike offered similar firsthand accounts of how music not only brings otherwise isolated people together socially, but also engages their brains.

“You can watch them follow along with the lyrics as you sing them,” Mike James said. “Their lips move in time with the lyrics, because they remember.”

Val James cited the couple’s “76 years in public education between us,” including her own time as a counselor, to assert that music is beneficial not just to those coping with dementia or similar ailments, but to the human race as a whole.

She even described music as the couple’s “salvation,” since performing music afforded them an outlet they didn’t have at their otherwise satisfying jobs.

“It’s like bringing therapy dogs into elder care centers,” Val said. “It just brightens people up.”

Val accounted for their particular affinity for early 20th century jazz by praising its composers as “poets” whose lyrics “have never been equaled since,” with writing that “said things in memorable ways, that touched people’s hearts.”

Because a number of the songs that the Jameses play were featured in movies with the likes of Fred Astaire, Val believes their music “evokes more than mere melodies.”

Val and Mike hastened to add that their music includes an assortment of styles, from folk and blues to kids’ music and even sea shanties, the latter of which they consider especially appropriate for a Victorian seaport such as Port Townsend.

“We’ve played songs by everyone from John Denver to Frank Sinatra and Harry Belafonte,” Val said.

Val’s new CD, “Just Makin’ It Up,” fits its title by being comprised of all original tunes, but the Jameses have several other albums to their credit, including “Victory Music Projects,” and are part of the “Constellation’s Crew,” performing nautical and Celtic selections.

Their most recent CDs are “Mixed Bag,” with songs ranging from traditional to modern folk and Broadway favorites; “Back To Back,” with Dawn Clement, Steve Christofferson, Jeremy Jones and Kevin McCarthy; and “Live at the Upstage,” with the Pete Toyne Trio, collecting a series of jazz standards.

They also have an album of original songs for kids called “Carry Your Own Rainbow.”

The Jameses’ “Arts to Elders” concert kicks off at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 14 at Life Care of Port Townsend, at 751 Kearney St.

The Arts to Elders concert series is an outreach service of Northwind Arts Center, in cooperation with Port Townsend’s senior care centers.

“We know the joy that music brings to us,” Val said. “I can only hope that, when I’m in my 80s or 90s, someone else will be there to play music for me.”

For more information, call Northwind Arts Center at 360-379-1086.

Mike James also invited the public to the open mic he hosts at the Courtyard Café, on the third Sunday of each month from 1-5 p.m., with a focus on public domain and original material.

Comments

No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment