By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
BURLINGTON — For 25 years, retired music teacher Bill Luckenbill filled his days with sing-alongs and performances at local long-term care and hospice centers. Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in March, Luckenbill has been unable to do what he loves most. “The days are long,” he laments.
It is a sentiment he shares with fellow musicians Maureen McLaughlin and Jack Wail, who accompanied Luckenbill to many of his gigs over the past two years. “We miss seeing and giving joy to the people in the (care centers), seeing their faces light up,” Wail said. The three musicians are members of Divine Mercy Parish in Burlington/West Burlington.
To help fill the days and bring some of that joy back, the trio recorded a series of DVDs in Luckenbill’s garage to distribute to care centers in the area. Based on the location of the recordings, they call themselves Bill’s Garage Band, or Bill’s GBs, for short.
For more than two decades, Luckenbill performed most of his music ministry as a solo artist. “I’ve been to more than 25 facilities over the years,” he said. Some gigs are weekly, others more sporadic. “There isn’t a care center he hasn’t played for,” McLaughlin quipped.
Wail began tagging along on some of the gigs two years ago; he had just retired from his job as a school counselor in Burlington public schools and was looking for a hobby that would provide a sense of purpose and fulfillment. His guitar and singing skills complemented Luckenbill’s work on the keyboard. McLaughlin, retired from managing her family’s heritage farm, joined the group as a flautist. Although Bill’s GBs is a relatively new music group, the members’ roots run deep. McLaughlin and Wail were involved in music ministry at St. Anthony Parish-Davenport years ago, when both lived in the area. Luckenbill was McLaughlin’s high school music teacher in the 1960s in Mediapolis. Wail credits the Holy Spirit for bringing the trio together in song in recent years.
Wail said he has learned a lot by performing alongside Luckenbill. “He’s still teaching, because I’ve learned a lot from him and he’s challenging my abilities, as well.” McLaughlin said of Luckenbill, “He is an amazing 86-year-old man, and he has touched so many people’s lives with his musical talent.”
Prior to the pandemic, the group performed together about five days a week. Luckenbill also did some gigs on his own. Primarily, the group played classic songs from the 1920s through the 1960s. They included some well-known religious and patriotic songs. “For these people, the songs bring back great memories,” Luckenbill said. In the dementia units, “those people don’t remember yesterday, but they seem to remember the old songs.” Each show — whether solo or with the group, ended with God Bless America.
Luckenbill said, “I get a lot of satisfaction seeing a smile out of some of these people who have been forgotten in the care facilities. It makes my day. I look forward to it.”
Coronavirus can’t stop the music
For the past six months, most care centers have been closed to visitors. “We have really missed sharing our music with others and ourselves,” McLaughlin said. “There has been an empty spot in our hearts and a hunger for giving our gift of music.” Still, “the coronavirus wasn’t going to stop us from playing music,” she said. They decided to record DVDs with some of the more popular songs and distribute them for free to care centers where they used to play, along with sheet music. Luckenbill said he understands that residents may not be able to meet in a large group to watch the DVDs, but many residents have DVD players in their rooms. Some care centers allow residents to watch the DVDs in smaller groups.
He recently received feedback from one care center that warmed his heart. An activity director wrote to Luckebill, “We enjoyed singing with a half-dozen residents. You should have heard them singing God Bless America! We look forward to getting more DVDs because the group really enjoyed it.”
Moving forward in hope
Bill’s GBs have discussed the possibility of recording a Christmas DVD. “I honestly don’t think we’re going to be out singing Christmas songs to the facilities this year,” McLaughlin lamented. Although some facilities have offered Bill’s GBs the opportunity to play in-person again, Luckenbill feels it would be unwise; he doesn’t want to risk getting any of the residents sick.
McLaughlin said she spends time praying for the people the group used to play for in person. “I know their hearts need to be filled with music and we can’t do that (in person). I hope they are getting the music from some source, and that’s why these DVDs are so important.”
Access the music
Bill’s GBs said their DVDs are available to anyone. To receive a free DVD, text Luckenbill at (941) 525-0054. Access the DVDs on Wail’s YouTube account, https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCCpr1S3qpGgYXjxsywFf-Xw/