Vada Ann McPheeters has been playing piano at Westview and Peabody Care Center nursing homes in Peabody for nearly 30 years. She also plays once a month at First Baptist Church.
She has never had formal training.
“You give me a piece of sheet music, and I’m sunk,” McPheeters said.
That is a slight exaggeration. McPheeters said she can read the music, but is uncomfortable playing songs she has not heard before. She wants to gauge the tempo and feel of the song before she brings the notes to life.
McPheeters learned piano a little through osmosis — picking up tidbits of lessons her sister received when they were both young girls. She also picked up the skill practicing repeatedly on the family piano. Often she played because it was something to do.
“I entertained myself that way,” McPheeters said.
McPheeters continues to entertain nursing home residents with her playing, although she will be 82 later this month. She plays sing-a-long songs for a devoted group of about 10 people at each location.
She started playing hymns and church music. Eventually she added well-known contemporary to the repertoire requested by her audience — anything from “America the Beautiful” to “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”
Over 30 years McPheeters has been reliable. Like clockwork, every Wednesday afternoon at Westview and once a month Wednesday morning at Peabody Care Center, she tickles the ivories. A small change — she used to sing but she said her voice has deteriorated.
On the few days she has missed, she has received concerned comments from residents. They ask if anything was wrong, where she was.
They enjoy singing to those songs with McPheeters providing accompaniment. That is the reason she keeps volunteering at both locations.
“It’s just a fun thing I enjoy doing,” she said.