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California and the West

Golden Oldies : Octogenarian Troupers Put Their Lives to Music and Take It on the Road

June 24, 1997|KARIMA A. HAYNES

Things were pretty quiet around the Mother Gertrude Balcazar Home for Senior Citizens on Monday--until the Golden Dreams showed up.

With verve and vitality, the octogenarian troupe, led by music teacher Violeta Quintero, entertained their peers with Mexican folk-style songs they composed about the trials and triumphs of living.

While some were mournful ballads about spouses who have passed on, other songs were upbeat tunes about childhood memories and young lovers that had residents of the home clapping along.

At the show's end, David Ayala and Pepper Delgado strutted their stuff during a Mexican hat dance, earning wild applause from the audience.

Quintero, who has taught elderly students how to sing, play and dance to traditional Mexican music since 1977, formed the Golden Dreams after students showed an interest in taking their show on the road. So far, they have performed at schools and homes for the aged.

"When people get old, they experience losses," Quintero explained in an interview before the performance. "They become lonely people who feel like they have been left behind and that they are no good for anything."

The music class, she said, helps to build students' self-esteem by giving them the opportunity to learn a new skill, basking in the spotlight during public performances and by helping them to focus on the music and not the things that ail them. Quintero said she also has seen improvement in band members' physical health.

"There was one woman who always used to be late for class because she rode the van and they always picked her up last," Quintero recalled. "One morning she took her walker and walked to class. It took her a half-hour to walk a half-block, but she got to class on time."

Another woman, who had cancer, came to a session extremely depressed because her doctors told her she only had about two months to live, Quintero said. "We encouraged her to keep coming to class. She lived another five years."

Eventually, the woman succumbed to her illness, Quintero said. "When she passed away, we went to her burial and sang the songs she loved.

"I tell my students that this is not a class you take for a semester and then leave," she said. "This is a way of life."

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