Few residents liven things up at the Glendale Home more than Ruby McGrory.
A Brooklyn native who spent much of her life in Long Island, Middletown and Clifton Park, McGrory, 91, is writing, directing, performing and producing a special Christmas concert called “A Christmas Card,” Tuesday at 2:15 p.m. in the Glenville facility’s multi-purpose room. Residents and their families and employees of the nursing home are all invited to attend.
McGrory and her piano playing will be the star of the show, but she has assembled 16 other people – some residents, some workers – to help her.
“I’m going to play six numbers, but I wanted to do something more and put on a real pageant,” said McGrory, who has been playing the piano since she was 6 and giving lessons since she was 17. “I wrote the script and wrote a few lines. I’ve been doing this kind of thing my whole life.”
It’s a Christmas show without a whole lot of preparation.
“We don’t have any rehearsals, but hopefully it will all come together on the 11th,” said McGrory, who moved to Clifton Park in 1990 and has been at the Glendale Home for the past two years. “If you walk down our halls you’ll come across old people in their wheelchairs singing their lines. We’re brightening up the spirit around this place.”
McGrory says her piano-playing ability is a gift from God, and one she loves to share with others.
“I’ll be 92 in February, so I’ve been playing the piano for 86 years, and I’ve been teaching others the piano since I was 17,” said McGrory, whose husband, Bill, passed away in 1993. “It was just a gift, something that came to me because I would tag along with my older sister who was taking piano lessons. Then we would head back home and I would end up playing the piano. My father realized that God really gave me something so he started sending me to lessons.”
McGrory was privately trained and quickly became quite an accomplished player.
“My father’s father was a concert pianist in Italy and I had an Italian professor with a ruler who would teach me,” said McGrory. “I would practice for two hours a day, and like any typical child, I didn’t really like to do that at first. But then I realized I did have this gift, and I really began enjoying it. It was a very serious thing for me, and by the time I was 17 I was teaching others.”
Since moving to the Capital Region nearly 29 years ago McGrory has performed at a number of venues and with various senior orchestras, including the Schenectady and Albany symphonies. She also kept on giving private lessons out of her home until she was 84. She’s still happy to introduce a fellow resident to the keyboard but she finds most adults don’t have the time to practice the way they should.
“Grownups will tell me they want to learn, but they’ll do it for about six months and then they quit,” said McGrory, who has three children, five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. “When you’re a kid life is so different. You have no worries, you go to school, you play. When you get older you have all this responsibility and life kind of takes over. You just don’t have the time to practice.”
McGrory, who also learned how to play the violin when she was 70, will probably pound out a few of her favorite songs Tuesday, including ones she heard first from the likes of Frank Sinatra, Perry Como and Nat King Cole.
“When I hear Nat King Cole sing a number, I’ll play it exactly the same way but I just don’t play the melody,” she said. “I come up with my own arrangement. I’m able to play the music the way I hear it.”
One thing she’s doing for certain at Glendale Home is lifting spirits.
“She is such a love bug and she is putting her whole heart into this thing,” said Patty Chandler, a visiting nurse at Glendale Home. “The people there are really excited.”
Chandler is one of the “extras” on hand for McGrory’s concert, and will most likely portray an angel. Tracie Denny is the Glendale Home Activities Director and has worked there for 19 years. The last week, she said, she hasn’t been able to walk through the hallways of the place without seeing people getting ready for their performance.
“You walk through our facility and you’ll see our residents practicing their parts, holding little folders and singing their songs,” said Denny. “She’s got a lot of people involved, and she’s going to draw a good crowd for her concert. She’s a lovely lady and well known here for playing the piano. She draws a crowd when she’s practicing.”
One thing McGrory won’t be doing on Tuesday is singing.
“No, I can’t carry a tune at all,” she said. “I love to play, but I’ll let others sing.”