Arlene, an elder client, usually in a wheelchair (but who occasionally and unpredictably stands and dances) likes to sing, “This Old Man” or “You Are My Sunshine.” That latter is also a favorite of Karen's, a sweet lady without much short-term memory -- she sings the song, then immediately requests it again. I say, “Karen, you just sang it.” “No, I didn't,” she says.
Vincent steps into the circle and picks up the mic like a pro. Gerry plays a few bars of blues, and Vincent improvises: “I got the blues, baby. I got the blues. I feel good . . . I feel good.” In a few minutes, his improvisation morphs into “God Bless America,” and we all join in.
Toward the end, Rosalie gets the whole floor involved in a nicely rowdy “Hokey Pokey,” and gets 20 or 30 clients to stand up and “put your whole self in, put your whole self out.”
Then, it's over. A few clients are disappointed we didn't get to their favorite songs, and we smooth some feathers. I distribute printouts of lyrics, because some clients like to copy them into notebooks, to practice reading and writing, and of course, to learn the words for performance on Thursdays — because that's what these are: Performances.
The clients prepare for snacks, as Rosalie, Gerry and I say good-bye and make our way to the elevator, down to the lobby and out onto Chicago's sunbaked summer streets.
We look at one another and say: And that's what it's all about.
Here are some sights and sounds: