SHIRLEY — Vintage folkies, nostalgic jazz buffs, amateur musicians and music lovers of virtually every stripe and age group are invited to the Senior Center at 9 Parker Road on Thursday afternoons at 2:30 for a musical mystery tour that's sure to get everybody's yesteryears in tune again.
No membership or reservations needed. Whether you play an instrument, (bring your own, tuned) sing along with oldies served up on an eclectic, ever-changing platter, or just sit back and enjoy the show, it's free and open to all, courtesy of the Council on Aging.
Interim COA Director Anne Towne acknowledged the program is a departure from the usual fare.
The center could be breaking new ground here, Towne said, citing a recent conversation with a state official, who said he knew of no other council doing anything like this and that she shouldn't be surprised if seniors from other centers come over to share in the fun.
Towne would be delighted if they do, she said. The more the merrier.
Not that the jams are just for seniors.
Everybody's welcome, said Rob McGeary, who dreamed up the idea.
Thanks to McGeary, a guitar-strumming attorney whose law practice is in New Jersey but recently set down roots in Shirley, and Towne's willingness to try something new, the center now offers a weekly afternoon delight too good to pass up.
At a recent session, for example, a visitor walked in, sat down and when the informal three-piece band began to play and the room resonated with joyful, tuneful sounds, joining them in song was irresistible.
From Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind" to "Jambalaya," to Roger Miller's "King of the Road," the familiar songs were played well and almost muscle everyone in the audience knew the words.
Old pop hits were trotted out too, like "Give My Regards to Broadway," "Goodnight Irene" and others from the big band era.
Soon, the trio segued to a quartet, with Mick Pare, McGeary and Annie Gaudet on guitars and baritone ukelele, respectively, and Walter Naparstek thrumming a back beat on his washtub.
A retired teacher who taught at Ayer High School for 30 years, Naparstek said he first heard the washtub played as an instrument in Hawaii and his own skill came out of the blue.
"It's a mystery talent," he said. He plays ukelele, too.
Pare shared stories between sets, a folksy, touch. When it came to "You Are My Sunshine," he said: "My dad sang this song to my mom. He told her it was the Portuguese national anthem."
A foreigner herself by birth, she swallowed the story and repeated it to a native of Portugal whom she worked with in a Fall River Factory, Pare said. Good thing his dad was out of reach at the time, serving in Korea.
McGeary told one about a club gig that brought down the house. While playing bass guitar, amped up loud enough to shake the rafters, the ceiling fell on him, he said.
Annie Gaudet started playing with this group via her acquaintance with Pare.
She approached him after mass at St. Mary's Church in Ayer one Sunday, where Pare played guitar and sang for the service. She got a guitar for Christmas, could he help her learn to play it? Pare, who plays "a lot of stringed instruments" and coaches a Ukelele Club at Page Hilltop Elementary School and helps coach a guitar club at Ayer Shirley Middle School, sized up the small woman and told her the guitar was too big for her. He suggested the ukelele instead. She took his advice.
As the visitor left, the plucky little band struck up another tune: "It's Now or Never..." If it wasn't a message, that there's always time for good music, it sure sounded like one.