Singing from the heart

Aegis on Galer resident honors late wife through song

“Right there is the motivation.”

Len Marten points to a pair of pictures sitting on the piano next to him. One was taken many decades ago — of him standing with a young woman — while the other is more recent, a smiling older face staring back.

The woman in both is Thelma.

And this afternoon was for her.

“If I didn’t have her in my life, I wouldn’t have a life,” he said.

On Dec. 27, the 93-year-old took to the microphone at Aegis of Queen Anne on Galer, for a recital months in the making. After more than 70 years of marriage, Thelma passed away over the summer.

His performance was dedicated to her memory, with a program filled with some of her favorite songs and show tunes, from “Ol’ Man River,” to “My Funny Valentine.

“She kept me going while she was alive,” he said. “She’s keeping me going now that she’s gone, and we’ll always be together.”

Marten also had some help, accompanied on guitar by music therapist Kaylee Tilton, who had worked with him in the months leading up to his recital.

Tilton said there was a “huge difference,” in Marten’s demeanor as they prepared the program, from how he was after his wife had passed. It started with 15 minutes here, or a half hour there, coming up with songs and crafting the program, then practicing each of the choices. 

“It’s like he was back again,” she said.

Marten has always been a singer, dating back to his time in his Temple choir when he was 12, and later with the U.S. Army Band in San Francisco. A fan of Broadway musicals, his love for singing can be traced back to “Carousel,” the 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein production.

Meanwhile, Tilton was hopeful the recital wasn’t a one-time only event, and that it becomes an annual occasion at the senior living community, coupled with a talent show each spring. 

She called music, “the great unifier,” and noted that even as people experience memory or cognitive changes, they’re still able to enjoy the experience.

“Music is a place where they can be normal, and they can express themselves in a meaningful way,” she said.

And that goes for the full gamut of residents.

“This is an activity that any resident from the most independent to the people on hospice can really connect to,” she said.

As far as Marten goes, he’ll keep singing too. He finished his recital with the closing number from the aforementioned, “Carousel.”

The name of that song? “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

“When the time comes,” he said afterwards, “we shall all be together.”

And while Thelma couldn’t be there in person that day, she was certainly there in spirit.

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