By Scott MacClelland
It might seem obvious that stimulating memories of seniors suffering from memory loss would follow a direct line. Yet many dementia—“memory care”—residents in assisted-living have long since withdrawn into isolation and silence. Some are catatonic, seemingly frozen in a perpetual state of somnambulance, as if asleep.
But two men in Monterey County who travel as “Brotherly Love”—Ray Paul and Lee Durley—have discovered, and now practice, a musical therapy that has successfully rekindled memories other care-givers have not been able to arouse. Together, at assisted-living facilities in the Monterey Bay area, they sing the songs that those residents respond to. And, bit by bit, many of those very people start to remember and some begin to sing along. Paul tells of a senior gentleman in assisted-living in Scotts Valley who joined Durley and Paul in crooning the songs of Sinatra but, as a staff member explained, couldn’t find his way back to his room.
Now about half way through their fifth year, they will give over 400 performances in 2014. “The first year we did 35 dates,” says Paul, “and thought that was pretty good.” Most of their concerts last an hour, some longer. They visit some facilities, like Park Lane in Monterey, once a week, others, like Madonna Manor in Salinas, every two weeks, while still others see them once a month. These facilities pay them modest fees. “But the real reward is reaching those who haven’t spoken for years,” he says.
The demand for these sessions is a clear endorsement by the facilities they visit of the duo’s impact. The response by residents is palpable. At Ave Maria Convalescent Hospital in Monterey, both memory care and general population turn out in numbers. “It’s the high point of their week,” says Durley. “The ladies get their hair done.” Thanks to weekly performances there, “we’ve gotten to know most of the residents by name. We get close to them.” (Right: Ray Paul holds out his mic so a resident can join in singing “Let me call you sweetheart.”) Durley, who has made the Monterey Peninsula his home for four decades, says “It used to be about doing a great thing with a song. Now it’s about what it does to these people. They need it. We’ve seen them slowly come to life. For us it’s a real passion.”
Both men, now in their early 70s, have been performing since they were teenagers, from rock bands and the heady Flower Power days of the ‘60s to club dates. “We had a popular rock band in San Francisco called The Renegades,” says Paul. “We played the Fillmore, opened for the Yardbirds, mostly for dancing.” He worked at South Lake Tahoe for a couple of years where he met up with Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr. among others. “Sinatra wanted me to write him some songs, but it came to nothing.” Durley also went on the road with his music. But, “Every time the job would end, I came back to Monterey.” Durley is very well known in the Monterey area club scene and gained an additional following with radio shows on KIDD and KWAV years ago.
Paul came to the Monterey area 11 years ago. As he explains it, “We went out to dinner one night at Los Laureles Lodge and saw Lee and Sonny G.” Durley interjects, “I always invite guest singers and right away Ray stood up and sang.” Paul continues, “We became friends and one thing led to another.” Durley says, “We met at the Golden Tee Restaurant and his scrapbook mirrored mine. We were doing the very same things in the ‘60s, ‘70s and early ‘80s. He was opening for people in Tahoe and I did the Vegas and Reno circuit. The commonality is amazing.”
For their memory care shows they take along a small sound system, plus two I pads, with instrumental tracks modified to the occasion. Once they obtain the rights to the arrangements, they use software from Song Surgeon to adjust pitch and tempo over which they weave their vocal harmonies and solos. “It’s kind of Karaoke,” says Paul. “We tailor our shows for familiarity. And we do two or three shows a day,” say Durley. “Right now we’re booked up through the rest of the year.” Then he adds, “I wish I’d discovered this 25 years ago.”