Thursday, 23 July 2015 10:57

Arnold and Friends share joy of music with seniors in Swift Current

Written by  Matthew Liebenberg
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Swift Current resident Arnold Schroeder has been sharing the joy of music for over 45 years with residents of retirement homes.

The 85-year-old accordion player is the band leader of Arnold and Friends, a five-member group that visits retirement and senior residences in Swift Current.
“I think we're playing a type of song that nobody else plays,” he said. “They enjoy the type of music we play and you should see some of those people singing the songs without words in front of them because they're old songs and they know them.”
The group performed at an old-style country dance at Doc's Town on July 12, which is the only other venue where they will make an appearance apart from their regular visits to senior residences.
The group is taking a summer break during July and August, but will again return to their regular Wednesday schedule in September.
They always perform at Riverview Village Estates on the first Wednesday of the month. They will be at Prairie Pioneers Lodge and the Bentley on the second Wednesday and then at the Swift Current Care Centre and Heritage Towers on the third Wednesday of the month. On the fourth Wednesday the group plays at the Palliser Regional Care Centre.
“But then we'll throw in another one when they want it,” he said. “Prairie View Lodge gets us once every two or three months, so does Pioneer Manor. So that's a couple of extras that we have.”
He grew up and farmed on the family farm in the Elrose area. He started visiting the local senior residence to play music.
“It's about 45 years since I started doing it on a regular monthly basis back in Elrose and I was doing it sporadically before that,” he said.
In Elrose he eventually gathered a few other musicians to play with him and they called the band the Happy Wanderers.
“I just like to be with older people,” he said. “We started entertainment at the Golden Years Lodge in Elrose before they had an activity director. I always liked to talk to the people and perform to them.”
His band in Elrose made occasional trips to Swift Current while he was still farming there.
“We used to come down from Elrose once in a while, a couple of times a year to Pioneers Lodge and Palliser because we had people from Elrose there,” he recalled.
Arnold and his wife June moved to an acreage north of Swift Current in 2000 and about two years ago they moved to the city. He started playing music at the retirement homes in the city soon after their move to the acreage.
“I started out by myself and then I've had different people through the years,” he said.
He has been performing with the current members of his band for about five years. The other band regular members are Marlene Abell (vocals), Carl Anderson (guitar), Floyd Currie (bass) and Thelma Wallace (piano).
“When it started out it was just Arnold, but then when I started to accumulate people we had to call it something, so we called it Arnold and Friends,” he said. “We're a good group right now and I like this group.”
Anderson was also a member of the Happy Wanderers in Elrose and they have been playing together since 1984.
“He said the reason they moved to Swift Current was so he could keep playing with me,” Arnold laughed.
All the band members are experienced musicians. Arnold has a whole case full of songs and he is proud that the group always performs without sheet music.
“We play by ear, we don't play by music, but we do have the words with us and we're adding songs every once in a while,” he said.
Due to their regular performance schedule they do not need to come together to practise. Even the addition of a song to their regular play list will happen during a performance.
“I played a new waltz the other day and I told them what keys we would be in and how I would play it,” he said. “You would never know that we hadn't practice that. It just came out so good and that's why I'm in love with this group.”
Arnold's favourite instrument is the accordion, but he also received piano lessons as a child.
“My mother gave us piano lessons,” he said. “I just wish now that I had appreciated it more at the time. I wasn't really interested in piano. The other boys at school called me sissy for playing the piano and that bothered me.”
He received his Grade 8 in music and stopped playing for a while until his uncle gave him an accordion.
“He had gotten a new accordion and he said you might as well take the old one and work with it and I thought that's pretty good,” he said.
It was a small 48 bass accordion, which was light and easy to handle when he started to use it.
“I borrowed my first accordion from my uncle when I was about 16 years old and I bought it from him a few years later,” he said.
A few years later he bought a larger 120 bass accordion that he played for many years until the keys were loose and there was a leak in the bellows.
“I literally wore out that second accordion,” he said. “It was almost new when I bought it. ... I still got it downstairs but then I wanted a bigger one with more sound to it. I'm finding this one a little heavy for me now but I still like it.”
Arnold will keep on performing with his band for as long as he is healthy because he still enjoys his visits to the senior residences.
“When I go into any one of these homes here, they're all saying hello, smiling, laughing or waving because they know me and I smile to them,” he said.

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