They don’t carry sheets of music. They’re professionals, although they don’t get paid. And they faithfully show up Tuesday mornings at the Pilgrim Senior Center.
They call themselves the “Pilgrim Four” even though there are five regulars and sometimes more.
But don’t let numbers confuse things, because as soon as they start playing around 10:30, the chairs fill up and it’s all about singing and having fun.
Leader Tony Pisano figures he’s been playing at the senior center for the past 30 years. He started off with Danny Beagan, “We Two,” and just fell into the routine of playing at the center after Danny left. The group grew over the years as Pisano asked other musicians to join in.
It’s not always a short trip, either. Carmelo Alessandro, who plays guitar, lives in Cumberland, and Ira Rice on trumpet makes the weekly trip from Narragansett.
Rounding out the group are Joe Holtzman, “smiley” as Pisano calls him, on drums; Stan Freedman on clarinet; and Domenic Rotella adding the rhythmic beat on tambourines.
Pisano credits Diane Carley, who has long been committed to the Friends of the Warwick Seniors (when JONAH in Oakland Beach and Buttonwoods were operational), as one of those who kept the sing-a-long going.
Pisano had a career in education, and as it turns out, so did many of the Pilgrim maestros. He was the principal of North Providence High School.
“In 1990, I retired from my regular job,” he said on a recent Tuesday before taking his seat at the piano. He absent-mindedly lets his fingers dance across the keys as he talks, like stroking the back of a friendly pet.
“My true love of my life is playing the piano,” he says.
His avocation and that of others in the group have them playing – sometimes together or with other groups – three and four times a week. They get paid occasionally, and that’s nice, but it’s the love of music and the company that brings them together. Pisano plays regularly at other senior centers and Tamarisk Assisted Living.
The Pilgrim gig is a participatory event, and the regulars expect that. Binders with the lyrics of favorites from the ’60s, ’50s and further back sit on chairs. They rarely get opened, as everybody knows the words, and if they don’t that’s OK; they can tap their feet and swing along with the music.
And there are the performers like Shirley Savory and Marilyn Farrell, just to name two. Farrell asked the group to play the “Tennessee Waltz,” standing to join the group. She cupped the microphone, singing the lyrics softly, her peers in the audience joining her.
Singing along was Patricia Pontarelli a regular at the center since 2015. She didn’t refer to the binder.
“I know most of the songs by heart,” she said. She’s not ready to take the microphone, not yet.
“It’s the best day of the week,” she says of Tuesdays.
Center director Meg Underwood loves the upbeat spirit Tony and his players inject to the center.
On Tuesday, the Scott School fourth- and fifth-grade chorus joined the sing a-long. Music has a way of enhancing such intergenerational events.
“If the seniors want ’40s-era music, The Pilgrim Four delivers Big Band in spades. Fifties? Elvis is served up with a smile. And if the seniors have a hankering for songs from musicals, they will happily bring Broadway into the Pilgrim Center's dining room,” Underwood said.
“It's hard to be down when people are enjoying great music and singing their hearts out. And it is truly a no-judgment zone. If you like to sing or just want listen, you are welcome here. The love of music is the only prerequisite,” she said.