By Kathleen Gest, Local columnist
---- — Two forms of art combine to make the Senior Center Network Saturday Night Dances compelling for older area citizens — live music — the magical art of sound that captivates, inspires, energizes and soothes, and the art of dancing, performed in many cultures as a form of emotional expression and social interaction.
Music has been a part of people's lives almost from the beginning. It developed into a means of expression, linking people and history in a way that words alone could not. Music has become the language that bridges cultures, genders and generations.
Today music is not just listened to, it makes people want to dance, does wonders to alleviate stress, revitalizes the dispirited, and is intensely connected to memories, conjuring up recollections of hope, love and regret.
Joseph Wysocki, one of the musicians from the band Rhythm Tones, playing at the Grand Traverse Senior Center, began his interest in music in junior high in Traverse City as a drummer and percussionist. After graduation from St. Francis, he was employed by the city of Traverse City. When he was asked to join the Escapades polka band, he made the decision to keep up his music on his own time.
"It was not only love of music --at that time being from a Polish family, I really loved Polka music," Wysocki explained. "When I started out, music helped put food on the table and pay bills, because the money wasn't bad back then. But, now it is not about the money. It is the love of music and the socializing — connecting with people and friends."
As the years went by, he was asked to be a drummer in a Dixieland big band, which played each Friday night in Fife Lake from 1984 to 1994. When the bar was sold, the new owners didn't continue with live music. So, with the band out of a job, he gave up his music.
It wasn't until he was diagnosed with cancer that he acknowledged to himself music was too important to give up.
One study has shown that older people who play a musical instrument are more physically and emotionally fit as they age. Playing a musical instrument is an excellent outlet for those in their retirement years, providing not only enjoyment and relaxation, but an opportunity to socialize and reminisce about the music that has added a special importance to their lives.
"I wanted to play so bad again, I purchased a new drum set," Wysocki said. "Everything just took off big time. Many of the old musicians came out of the woodwork and I got hired with Anna and the Lazy River Boys — then hired at Wellington Country Farms in a traveling band. I was playing more than ever.
"It was like it was meant to be. It was like a miracle, because I had thought I would never play again."
It is the activity he now enjoys most in retirement. Along with jamming with friends, he plays with Anna and the Lazy River Boys with five musicians, and with the Rhythm Tones with Ginny Wallis and Bill Kopke. Rhythm Tones plays at the Senior Center every third Saturday of the month.
"People are more excited and upbeat about live performances," Wysocki said. "We play almost everything — big band sounds, country, rock and polkas. We enjoy playing Glen Miller and Benny Goodman music — a lot of the old tunes, and we have a following for that music, which is nice."
Although music enjoyment is subjective and intertwined with cultural and personal experience, live music can offer great entertainment. There is an inherent energy in a live band, lending to a more spontaneous musical environment. Just listening or dancing, while gifted musicians showcase their talents, can energize and captivate an audience.
"It is nice to be retired, so I can concentrate on my music. I was blessed that everything fell in line like it has, but music is so much nicer in my older years," Wysocki said. "I would never give it up. I am going to continue as long as I possibly can."
For more information about live music for Saturday night dances, call the Senior Center Network at 922-4911 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.