By Kristian Partington
Jim Bates can often be found outside the hobby room at the Village of Arbour Trails in Guelph while the Royal City Ukulele Ensemble is practicing. He quietly works on a puzzle while this collective of players from the community outside the village practices under the guidance of instructor Cynthia Kinnunen. Like many village residents, Jim has grown accustomed to the regular ukulele classes, enjoying the waves of song that echo along Main Street and the regular faces that come each week to practice.
Not long ago, as the ensemble practiced the classic Dolly Parton song, Jolene, an idea for a gift for his wife to celebrate their anniversary and her birthday came to him. His wife, Ghislaine, has always been a music lover and these days, music is one of her great comforts as she lives in the shadow of dementia and Parkinson’s disease. She needs full-time support and resides in a nearby long-term care home. Nearly every day, Jim is visiting at her side with quiet music from the CD player calming their afternoons together. Though verbal communication is difficult for Ghislaine, Jim knows she understands the world around her; she smiles when she hears something she likes and she can certainly show emotion.
When the ensemble played Jolene that day in early July, he thought how similar the name in the title is to the love of his life. After practice, he asked if it might be possible for the group to change the name and record the song as a gift he could offer. Cynthia, the music instructor who first brought her ukulele classes to the village two years ago after connecting with recreation director Kim Cusimano through Twitter, was more than happy to honour his request and “the rest,” Jim says, “is history.”
The ensemble came to the decision to record six songs for the CD, Cynthia says. They met at her home a few weeks after Jim’s request, which was more aptly suited for quiet recording, and put the music together. One of the players teamed up with a volunteer at the village to put a CD cover together and they passed it Jim’s way the next day.
He waited until their two sons visited before placing the disc in Ghislaine’s CD player, then he and his two grown boys watched for her reaction as the music began to play.
“At first, she had a quizzical look,” Jim explains. “She could hear her name and then all of a sudden it sunk in that it was her name and she was just smiling ear to ear.”
‘Wow’ was the only word her sons could utter as they watched the delight in their mother’s face, and Jim couldn’t be more grateful to the ukulele ensemble for helping make that moment happen.
“It just blew my mind, the work that they put into it,” Jim says with a quiver of emotion welling in his voice. “I really appreciate it.”
The ensemble has grown very comfortable in the village, Cynthia says, and Jim is one of the faces they’ve grown to love there. “We felt very lucky to be able to do something extra special,” she says. “It feels very special for us to be a part of that community.”
The feeling, assures Jim, is mutual, and he’ll think of their kindness and generosity every time their music rings through. “It’s something we’ll have forever,” he says.