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COOS BAY — On Thursday, Dec. 17, the Ocean Ridge Jug Band is going to try to be serious for once.

Sure, they're going to sing "All I Want for Christmas Is My New False Teeth."  

There'll be lighted Rudolph noses and some fancy choreography involving power wheelchairs. 

But in addition to the fun, the band members will take some time to tell their audience about the energizing, healing power of music in their lives.

Thursday's event, which starts at 2 p.m. in the Ocean Ridge dining room at 1855 Ocean Blvd. SE, will be part of the facility's Lifelong Learning series. Every month, the facility invites the community to enjoy a demonstration or presentation on some topic of general interest. Usually the presenters are from the community, but this month, it's the band's turn in the spotlight.  

The Ocean Ridge Jug Band is the brainchild of Mary Luther, Ocean Ridge's life enrichment director, who's had a varied musical career.

In 2007, she convinced a group of residents to take up rhythm instruments and and accompany themselves while they sang. There aren't any actual jugs, as no resident has yet shown up with the lung capacity needed to play one. But the occasional kitchen implement can be seen in the band.

The jug band helped Luther find some more experienced musicians who'd been hiding their light under a bushel at Ocean Ridge. 

For instance, Dennis Pooler is ordinarily quite silent.

But give him an introductory chord, and he lifts up a rich bass voice and sings "Silent Night." Turns out he's retired from a career as a singing gospel preacher.

Another quiet Ocean Ridge resident is Patricia Donaldson, who had a stroke that left her unable to speak except in halting phrases. But she can fluently and expressively sing a whole song.

Some people are shy about sharing their talents. Sharon Sommer had to be persuaded to play the piano that accompanies the singers. "When I came here, I almost quit playing," Sommer confided. But now she practices regularly to keep up her accompaniment skills. "It pushes me to do better," she said. "It keeps my memory going and my fingers limber, and it gives me something to look forward to."

One man came to jug band practice for a year before he would pick up his accordion and join in, Luther said.

But once people get into the spirit of jug band, they pitch in to help plan the musical arrangements, gather props and organize rehearsals. 

"We have our own ideas, but Mary keeps us going on track," said Miriam Wolff.

During a run-through of Christmas songs last week, Luther was everywhere at once — singing, beating a pair of lighted drumsticks, enforcing adherence to the choreography and helping people turn on their Rudolph noses.

Membership in the group is limited to 14, the capacity of the Ocean Ridge van. The group regularly performs at other assisted-living facilities. Band members said even very ill people light up in response to the music. 

"They cry," said Jean Ehman.

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Band members tell jokes between songs. Virginia Bloch, who is 103, might favor the group with a dramatic poem that begins: "'Twas an evening in November / As I very well remember; / I was strolling down the street in drunken pride." In fact, it's hard to predict when she might break into this poem — or possibly another one less suitable for general audiences.

But the jug band members deal graciously with one another's foibles and infirmities. "We know each other as a family," Wolff said.

Like any well-conceived enterprise, the jug band has a mission statement that all the members can articulate: "To make people happy through music."

It fulfills this mission so well that in 2009, the Ocean Ridge Jug Band won an Enrichment of Life award from the Oregon Health Care Association. To receive the award, Luther took the whole band to Portland overnight, staying in a motel with a squad of caregivers. 

With their worth acknowledged in this way, you'd think jug bands would be popping up all over. But Luther said musical programs are rare at assisted-living facilities. No other local facility has a similar ensemble. 

Still, the jug band is well known around town. In 2014, it performed at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for Dr. Todd Landsberg's audiology office.

The more publicity, the better, as far as Luther is concerned. "I have a vision of making Ocean Ridge the place all the musicians want to retire to," she said.

"Then I'll move in and tell the activity director what to do."

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News editor Gail Elber can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 243, or via email at gail.elber@theworldlink.com.

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