A band of strangers spreads the sounds and spirit of the holidays

The band includes everyone from professional musicians to a former Belmont High School teacher and a real estate agent. Until they answered a recent Craigslist ad, most had never met, let alone performed together. But, in recent days, this group of eight musicians and singers organized by the Silver Lake Musicians Co-op have been racing across town performing holiday classics at convalescent homes and other institutions as part of a program to engage musicians in the community. The plan for this first-time effort is to stage a dozen free performances in seven days. The first performance was held on Saturday at the Garden Crest Nursing Home in Silver Lake and the last is scheduled for Christmas Day at Gateways Hospital, a rehab center, in Echo Park. Not everything has gone smoothly, however. The group – a combo and four vocalists – was not able to rehearse together in time for its first debut, which is why the group dubbed itself the “We Didn’t Know Each Other Last Week CHRISTMAS BAND.”

The group “has had to deal with car problems, equipment failures, a car accident, traffic ticket, and even a set of car keys falling down an elevator shaft all in the same day,” said a press release. Despite those mishaps, the group has not missed a performance, said music cooperative director Gary Gamponia, who came up with the traveling concert program. “Making elderly and infirmed people happy at this time of year is just something that needed doing.”

Gamponia said that the Craigslist ad seeking performers drew more than three dozen responses from musicians and singers – including a three piece cowboy band and a New Age artist who plays the tamboura and harmonium – from across Los Angeles. Next year, Gamponia wants to expand the program to include as many as 100 performers. Judging from the response at the Hollenbeck Palms Nursing Home in Boyle Heights, Gamponia will have an audience waiting.

“It was a very good show,” said Luz Reynoso, activities director at the Hollenbeck Palms, where an audience of mostly wheel-chair bound seniors tapped their toes, swayed their shoulders and sang along during a Sunday performance. “I wish they would come back.”

The “We Didn’t Know Each Other Last Week CHRISTMAS BAND” will perform today Jim Wooten and other professional musicians at the Veterans Hospital in West LA.

Photo by Yoshiko Kobayashi

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