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Music Provides a Break from the Sting of Homelessness

Posted Dec 23 2009 8:07am

I glance up from playing my accordion and smile. I’m haunted by the expressionless eyes of the crowd at the dinner for the homeless, an annual event in downtown Denver that was started by the late Monsignor Charles B. Woodrich (AKA Father Woody). This party, which began in 1981 and provided dinners for the 100 homeless at the time, has morphed into a major undertaking providing dinners, gifts and entertainment for 2,865 homeless and low income family members on Sunday, December 20, 2009.

My stereotype of homelessness is alcoholic men with scraggy gray beards, begging for money. So you can understand why I’m struck by how many children are homeless. Children, with jet black hair and olive skin, ages ranging from newborns through teens, and their families, wait for around three hours outside in a line that snakes for two blocks around the Sheraton Hotel on this unseasonably balmy 58 degree winter day.

I wonder how long they have been waiting in the queue for their meals. I’m curious where they will go after they leave the dinner. Where will they have their next meals? How do they stay warm? Do the children attend school? How did their families become homeless? I am saddened to observe them carrying all of their worldly possessions in their backpacks.

More than 12 years ago, my husband, Tom volunteered at this dinner and was discouraged by the somber mood of the day. What this party needed was live music to brighten things up. I invited Alice Aman’s accordion band (which included me at that time) to play for this annual event, and they’ve provided entertainment ever since.

Alice Aman

Alice Aman, Colorado's Queen of the Accordion

For the last five years, I haven’t played my accordion with the group because of my slow Parkinson’s fingers and sometimes my right leg involuntarily makes figure 8’s and circles on the floor (neuro talk for dyskinesia). But this year, I’m determined to play with the group, despite my “limitations.” I play for two and a half hours. Right in the middle of Jingle Bells, my fingers come to an abrupt stop and refuse to move. I feel like a light bulb that burns out or a car that runs out of gas. I quietly get myself off stage and whisper to Alice, the band leader about “the Parkinson’s.”

Music is a universal language for the rich and poor, for the healthy and disabled. For me, it provides a temporary respite from the sting of having Parkinson’s. For the audience, it provides a break from homelessness when their eyes sparkle as they enjoy the accordionists squeeze out Christmas songs.

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