When Allan Feldman leads a sing along with seniors at assisted living complexes, nursing homes, and rehabilitation centers, something wonderful happens.
“I see a transformation at each show,” says the Guilford resident. “Sometimes it might be only one, or a couple, or several people; sometimes it might be more. A few weeks ago, I did a show in Hamden, and one woman got up with her walker and started to dance with a staff member to Dean Martin’s ‘Sway.’”
Al’s big voice, singing familiar old tunes, will often trigger memories and unlock the person who once loved to dance or perhaps even saw the song’s originator singing back in the day.
“I usually talk to them a bit about each performer we’re going to sing with, and when I asked one group if anyone had happened to hear Al Jolson sing, a fellow said he was overseas during the Korean War, and Jolson performed a live show, and it was fantastic,” says Al. “So you never know what will come up. Every show is different.”
Evoking a memory or stirring the spirit slumbering in some of his guests is one of the responses Al seeks to generate. He frames his time together with each elderly audience as a “therapeutic musical group.” Al says the sing-alongs help audiences journey back in time and reminisce, while cognitively experiencing lyric and melody recognition.
Al has 20 years’ worth of experience in senior administrative care and social work, and is now in his second career as a home care marketing consultant for the elderly. He holds a master’s degree in counseling (his thesis was “The Prevention of Elder Abuse and Neglect at Geriatric Facilities and in the Community at Large,”) along with a graduate certificate in gerontology from Hunter College/Mount Sinai Hospital Geriatric Education Center in New York.
“During my years working in social work and senior marketing, one thing I’ve deduced is many seniors lose touch with people,” says Al. “They lose friends, they lose family members—they have tremendous losses; and their life becomes a language of loses. And it’s really impossible to supplement those losses. You can’t replace those losses, but you can make substitutes to help fill in the gaps.”
He says one of the best solutions he’s found is to encourage the elderly to “follow their hobbies, their interests, their pastimes.
“When I give a performance, I always ask ‘What’s your favorite hobby or pastime?’” says Al. “I try to get them reconnected. It’s so important to get them to reconnect with their passion, their interest, with what they love today.”
Al also likes to give a little historical background on every American artist highlighted during the sing along. He plays a recording of familiar tracks and takes the microphone to sing leads made famous by popular American songbook artists spanning 1911 to present day. Some of the tunes Al offers were popularized by the likes of Al Jolson, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Tony Bennett, Neil Diamond, Ricky Nelson, Willie Nelson, Barry Manilow, and others. He even kicks in some memorable songs from Broadway’s Man of La Mancha.
Al calls his free 60- or 90-minute show, “A Little Bit of This and a Little Bit of That.” He’s crisscrossed the state to give dozens of performances, inculding a fundraiser benefit for the Connecticut Alzheimer’s Association and scads of shows in this area. Earlier this week, Al performed at The Shoreline of Clinton, a memory care assisted senior living residence. Other recent shows performed in this area include those at Gables of Guilford, Apple Rehab of Guilford, Apple Rehab of East Haven, The Hearth at Tuxis Pond, The Madison House, and Peregrine’s Landing of Clinton.
Al is a one-man show who requires only an audience to complete his act.
“I bring my own equipment—I bring everything but my own seniors,” Al quips, adding that it’s very easy for audiences to sing along.
If he puts on the track to “Sway” by Dean Martin, for example, “it’s me coming in as Dean and the audience coming in as back-up to me,” says Al. “And you don’t have to sing. You can hum, you can groove, you can move. It’s really spirit-lifting.”
If a performance site is quite a distance to travel, Al does ask for a travel stipend of $5 to $10 to cover the cost of gas. And while he’s no diva, Al also hopes to have just one item supplied for him at each performance: an ice-cold glass of ginger ale.
Al has a wonderful voice, but he never aspired to become a vocalist—although his pedigree includes a relative, Sylvia Duval, who had a long and successful singing career.
“My late aunt Sylvia was a professional singer who toured the country with a jazz band in the 1930’s, and then she was night club singer in Manhattan,” says Al. “I used to visit her once a month. I’d take her out to dinner and she would break out, a cappella, into one of her songs; and then the restaurant would break out in applause.”
Al grew up in Queens, New York and lived for many years in New York state with his wife, Susan Lipper, in areas including the Hudson Valley region and Long Island. Susan is an author of a beginning teacher and parents’ book for grades K-2 that’s seeking republication; and a retired teacher of 27 years with the Mineola school district on Long Island. While living in New York, Al also hosted a radio show for a one-year run on WGBB (Freeport, New York) called “Senior Spotlight: The Upside of Aging.”
“The senior community has given me incredible relationships over the years and an incredible two-fold career – social work and senior marketing,” says Al. “I love working not only with seniors, but also their families. If I can help improve the quality of life of seniors and their families, that makes my day.”
To contact Allan Feldman or to schedule a show, please call 845-594-9134.