Lighting up their lives with music

2013-06-25 00:00

GUY Deysel’s entourage is small for a famous singer. He arrives for his latest gig with his wife, Gloria, who is clutching a beer tray of buttered banana bread, which she has baked, and his mother-in-law, Mary Wright, who is 81.

Guy, a former Telkom technician from Howick, recently shot to national prominence when he was included in FNB’s You Can Help campaign, a project promoting good works through an ad campaign that is currently on TV.

When we meet, Guy is scheduled to give a morning concert in the large comfy sitting room of the Amberglen Frail Care Centre in Howick.

“I’ll just stand over there by the TV,” he tells activities co-ordinator Hilda Robertson. Some of the audience are in wheelchairs and others have walking frames parked in front of them, but that doesn’t stop people singing when he launches into his first song, a booming rendition of Have I told you lately that I love you?

Gloria and Mary have settled into two easy chairs on the side and look on. Gloria says she always bakes for the concerts and Mary comes along to most of them. Guy, who has been a semi-professional musician for decades, first began performing for old people three years ago when Gloria’s father was in frail care in Hilton.

“Those old people really love it when he sings Rock ’n Roll songs,” she tells me, and on cue, two women who look to be in their 60s get up and start line dancing in the centre of the room to You are My Sunshine, while tea and banana bread are handed out.

The morning’s entertainment is part of a programme of activities organised twice weekly by Robertson for a residents’ group that was started three years ago “to get them doing something”.

Many of the audience are knitting, an activity that is a regular feature of meetings because it helps people who have had strokes. The group, which includes people from the surrounding cottages, makes bootees and bonnets for premature babies and teddy bears, which are given to children at hospitals and police stations.

“They love the music,” says Robertson. “Some people have forgotten everything, but these old songs bring back a lot of memories.” The group’s activities, which include baking, movies and walks, are all part of the centre’s adoption four years ago of the philosophy of The Eden Alternative, a more people-centred approach to caring for the elderly that was started in the U.S. in 1991.

“The aim is to create a home away from home,” says Robertson. “It’s very easy for these people to stay in their rooms and never come out.”

Guy is joking about how his false teeth once fell out while he was singing and there is much laughter. A woman bobs past in time to the music, holding a ball of wool in each hand. “The music just makes me want to move,” she says.

Guy’s been busy since taking early retirement recently. “In May, it just took off,” says Gloria, counting the number of engagements in a pocket diary. “Five a week.”

They’ve been all over the province to Ladysmith, Anerley, Port Shepstone, Margate and Durban, and there are engagements lined up until October. “The cost of the petrol is killing,” she says. Donations for cakes and petrol are welcomed.

Guy finishes his show and sits down with us to rest. “It’s hectic, but I only sing for an hour a day,” he says. “It lights up my life, and I want to go back and do it again.” As for fame and being on TV: “It’s quite nice. It’s something different.

“People in the mall stop me and ask: ‘Are you the man on TV?’ My face is on a billboard as you come out of King Shaka Airport in Durban. But I don’t say: ‘I’m a big hero’.”

He wants to reach more people, and he and Gloria, who got married three years ago, have discussed trying to buy a campervan so that they can tour without worrying about accommodation costs.

“We can go into an area and find all the old-age homes that are there,” he says. “I’ve been wanting to do this and this time has been one of the happiest of my life. The people really appreciate it — you can see it in their eyes.”

We discuss Gloria’s cake making. She says that when her kids were growing up, she used to bake all week and sell from a table outside the Harding Spar to make ends meet. “If I need money, I’ll bake,” she says. “And if I need money, I sing for my supper. I’ve done it many times,” chimes Guy.

Something tells me their touring campervan idea will happen. They are make-a-plan people.

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