Ladysmith’s Over the Hill Gang played their final show after more than 25 years entertaining the community at care homes in Ladysmith, Chemainus, Duncan and Nanaimo.
The Over the Hill Gang was created by Jack and Cora Maier as a way to liven up birthday parties at the Ladysmith Seniors Centre.
“It was just Cora and I. She played the keyboard, and I hummed along with her,” Jack said.
Music has always been with Jack and Cora. In her youth, Cora entered singing competitions and was trained on piano. Jack was a guitar player, and is known for making instruments. Both had careers with the Canadian military, and did not start performing music until they were retired.
Slowly over time, people came up and asked if they could join Jack and Cora — the gang grew from there. Hilary Bell, Henry Wheat, Diana Hart, Nancy Sauvageau, and Jackie Ross joined the group, and others have been involved with the Over the Hill Gang over the years.
“It was wonderful. We were happy they joined us,” Cora said.
The Over the Hill Gang got up to eight to nine shows a month at various senior centres and home care facilities. They never charged money for their performances — they only ever asked for gas money if a show was far away. The Over the Hill Gang did not perform modern songs. They sang tunes that appealed to seniors.
“Somebody said, ‘we know the tunes, but we don’t know the words’, so Cora decided to create books with all the words of the songs we have,” Jack said.
They assembled song booklets with lyrics that they passed out at performances. With the song booklets in hand, everybody would join in the sing-along. Some of the most popular songs were ‘Blueberry Hill’ by Fats Domino, and ‘Chattanooga Shoe Shine Boy’ by Red Foley.
Studies have shown that listening to music or singing songs can bring emotional and behavioural benefits to people with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Music memory is one of the areas of the brain that remains mostly undamaged by Alzheimer’s. Jack and Cora said they would regularly see people in care homes respond positively to the music.
“They’d wheel them in, they’re staring at the ceiling or the wall. I remember distinctly there was a particular rhythm, a sound, a song, and I remember seeing a lady who didn’t move — except her foot was moving. Sometimes it was a hand moving, or they started to move just a bit. I could see we were getting through to them,” Jack said. “That was a regular reaction we had quite often.”
The Over the Hill Gang performed for the last time at the Ladysmith Senior’s Centre. Jack is now 89, and Cora is 85. They decided it was time to stop performing as they had to cart around all the audio equipment, set it up, and take it down for every show. They said the experience was bittersweet.
The Over the Hill Gang will continue to get together to stay connected and share some songs among themselves.