Music and laughter share the stage when members of Sentimental Journey get together.
On a recent sunny afternoon, the musicians gathered at the lake-front home of Birgit Gruner to share stories and to toast the band’s 10 years of playing in seniors’ residences throughout the North Okanagan.
Clarinetist Gruner, drummer and vocalist Rennie Sirianni, fiddle player Garry Hill, keyboardist and vocalist Sandy Spoor and baritone sax player Alec Czibbo shared their musical memories while enjoying a slice of Gruner’s homemade cheese cake.
“I moved here in 1996 from Germany and I always played at home with my kids and at seniors’ homes and then I came into contact with Rennie,” said Gruner, a former kindergarten teacher who teaches tennis at her home court overlooking Swan Lake. “It’s so rewarding to play for the seniors. Sometimes I will look out and see people are crying because they remember the music from when they were younger.
“The seniors remind me of my parents, who were very good musicians and ballroom dancers, and it’s great if you can give back. My mom had dementia at the end, but she could still sing Lili Marlene. Music is our international language, you don’t have to talk — it’s the best therapy.”
Sirianni said the band plays a wide variety of music, but its repertoire can generally be called the great American songbook.
“All of us would say that part of the reason we do this is to give back and often when we are playing, we look at some people and think ‘that could be me one day,’ and I hope that a group of people will come in and play music for me,” he said. “We go to these places and you see the same faces and then you go back and some of them aren’t there anymore, and that’s tough.”
For Sirianni, music has been a huge part of his life since he was a kid growing up in Manitoba and Vancouver.
“It seemed like every second young male after February 1964 was playing music after we saw The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show,” said Sirianni, who spent a number of years as drummer for local bands The Legendary Lake Monsters and Casual Sax. “I played by ear through listening to records.
“Music is very powerful and one of the neat things in doing this type of music is the connection I have to my dad.”
Sirianni recalls his father’s enormous record collection as well as his determination to get his son to listen to Big Band music such as the Les Brown Orchestra, when his own tastes ran more to The Kinks, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.
“With music, no matter what stage I was going through as a teen, we could always talk about music, even if we didn’t agree on other things,” said Sirianni. “For me, one of the fun things about what we do is that a lot of songs that I first heard at home with my dad’s records are songs we now play and so I think about my dad.”
Sirianni played in bands back in high school in Manitoba and after graduation, and is familiar to many North Okanagan residents for the 20 years he spent as a cameraman with Shaw Cable.
A Vernon resident since 2000, Hill grew up in Prince Albert, Sask. and has been a fiddle player for as long as he can remember. And at 82, he’s a senior himself.
“Rennie talks about the old songs, but they are new songs for me,” said Hill, who has taken champion fiddler honours in both Saskatchewan and British Columbia and who has judged fiddle championships across the country and in Washington. “I started playing for dances when I was 15 — we were a family band. My dad was a musician, and my grandfather as well, although I never knew him because he was killed in the First World War.”
Growing up in Lloydminster, Alta., Spoor began her musical education as a youngster, playing piano, organ and guitar.
“And I sang with my mom and sister and in a teen trio,” said Spoor, a preschool teacher and piano teacher by day.
Spoor moved to the North Okanagan three years ago and joined the band after she spotted an ad in the paper for a keyboardist.
“I met them and we decided we would try it out,” she said. “When we go into the seniors homes they connect with the music they remember from when they were young, and it makes it all worthwhile when they start tapping their toes, especially if it’s somewhere like Polson Extended Care.”
Ontario native and lawyer Czibbo played in his high school jazz band back home in Oakville but gave up music for a number of years. He moved to Vernon five years ago after retiring from his Vancouver law practice.
“I got back into it seven or eight years ago,” said Czibbo, one of the original members of The Legendary Lake Monsters and now a member, with Sirianni, of the seven-piece Knight Tones Soul Band. “We are seniors, so we like playing for them. We’ve updated our repertoire from the ‘30s and ‘40s — Irving Berlin and Cole Porter — to the modern era — Doris Day and Dean Martin.”
“We have had changes in personnel over the years, but we have kept going for 10 years. We get a small honorarium, but we aren’t doing it for the money — we do it because people are so happy to see us. We had a lady up dancing, with her walker, and we have a fellow who is 96 who polishes his dancing shoes in anticipation of our visit. He comes to all of the performances.”
When he plays, Czibbo instantly feels a connection to his mom and dad, who are 90 and 96, and still living in their own home in Burlington, Ont.
“My parents met in England after the Second World War. We FaceTime and the old music is one way to keep their memory going and it’s something we share.”
Sentimental Journey is available to play at any event — to book the band, call Sirianni at 250-542-5132.