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Story and Photo by Peta Owens Liston

"Why do you think humming birds hum?" Doug Jenson BS'79 asks a roomful of senior citizens. Wheelchairs line the walls, and one woman parks in the doorway and leans forward to get a better look at this tall, lanky man in a beige hat. "Because they don't know the words," says Jenson, genuinely grinning at a punch line he's told hundreds of times. "So if you don't know the words, hum along, because this performance is for you." With that, he gives the band a warm welcome and assures the audience that they will be entertained.

This performance at St. Joseph's Villa is one of about 80 Jenson will host this year as part of Heart & Soul, a nonprofit organization that brings music and the performing arts to people living in isolation. Entertainers chosen by Jenson and his sister Janna Lauer perform for audiences in convalescent homes, hospitals, centers for children with disabilities, rehabilitation centers, prisons, and homeless shelters. Founded in 1994 by Jenson and Lauer, this unique-to-Utah organization can't keep up with the demand for its performances. Last year, Heart & Soul entertained some 5,700 people, the majority of whom were convalescent home residents.

"Music is a beautiful medium to soothe and bring enjoyment to these often lonely people," says Jenson. After performances at convalescent homes, Jenson moves from one person to the next, warmly embracing their hands with his own large hands, kneeling down at eye-level with each resident. "Did you enjoy the performance? How are you doing today?" His warmth and vitality work like the music. People smile and perk up, and some don't seem to want to let go of his hands.

Jenson's good nature is contagious. Women playfully tell him he has great legs, kid him about his height, and ask him if he would like to marry them. "They even laugh at my bad jokes," he says, "but not often enough." he smiles. "These people feed my soul."

Music from the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s brings the audience to life; memories and sentiments linked to each song elicit smiles and tears. One gentleman reaches for his wife's frail hand during "You Are My Sunshine." Feet tap, heads sway, hands clap gently to ragtime music and old Broadway songs.

"I have a very full life, and Heart & Soul is a big part of that fullness."

"Music is a universal language," says Shauna Smith, a recreation specialist at St. Joseph's Villa. "It helps the residents reminisce and gets them moving. They need this." She points out a gentleman who smiles softly to the song "Somewhere Over The Rainbow." She explains he has had several strokes and rarely smiles as he does during these performances. She points to another woman who suffers from severe Alzheimer's. "The only thing that touches her, gets through to her, is music. She'll hum these songs for hours after the performance."

Bringing Heart & Soul To Life

"When I started this, I had no idea the rewards would come back to me tenfold," remarks Jenson, who became aware of a similar organization, Bread & Roses, in San Francisco, while living there for ten years. He returned to Utah when his mother, Verla, moved into a nursing home. "That's when we realized the incredible need to bring performing arts to this population." Jenson's psychology degree came into play here. "It made me sensitive to people's needs and empathetic to what others are going through," he says. Lauer, a musician herself, was well connected with the local music community and put the word out that she and her brother were looking for performers. The Intermountain Acoustic Music Association turned out to be a gold mine of interested musicians. Heart & Soul grew from a handful of performers averaging five performances a month to the present tally of 140 performers who put on 191 performances this past year.

The name Heart & Soul evolved from the visceral combination of music and memory. Jenson remembers his sister and mother, who has since passed away, playing the song "Heart and Soul" together on the piano. He half hums and half sings the song: "Heart and soul, I gave my love to you, heart and soul, like any fool would do, madly I love you, heart and soul."

Jenson doesn't usually sing. He sticks to hosting the performances, while Lauer focuses on booking and doing some performing herself, playing the upright bass. She refers to her brother as a "front-room musician" who shies away from playing his guitar in public. They both fund raise, audition performers, and help musicians set up their makeshift stages. And they both feel their lives are richer because of Heart & Soul. "We've learned the value of giving back to the community," says Jenson. "If we can make a life for ourselves in which we do give back, I can't think of a more ideal way to spend my life."

Their goal is to make Heart & Soul a viable nonprofit organization capable of paying a salary or two, so that when brother and sister move on, someone else can pick up where they've left off. "We don't want its existence to be dependent on us," explains Jenson. Currently, the organization subsists on individual donations, as well as grants from the Salt Lake City Arts Council, the Utah Arts Council, and the George S. and Dolores DorŽ Eccles Foundation. A portion of these donations provides performers with some pocket change (an entire band makes no more than $120 a performance). Nobody participates in Heart & Soul for the money. Jenson's livelihood stems from his work as a faux furniture painter and from a billing business he founded while living in the San Francisco Bay area.

Who's Sharing With Whom?

Musicians also find enrichment through Heart & Soul. "We hardly lose any performers. Once they start, they are hooked," says Jenson. "They realize that in the process of giving, they become the recipients." Lauer agrees, pointing out that performers are often motivated by the personal rewards. "The audiences in many of these places are so attentive and appreciative because a performance is such a treat for them," she explains. Such positive feedback is gratifying.

"It grows on you," says mandolin player Jim Farmer, a third-year law student at the U. "And then it starts getting you right here," he says, patting his heart. In the three years Farmer has played for Heart & Soul, he has become aware that sharing his talent has eased his own loneliness. "Christmas used to be a tough time for me. It's funny, though, since I've been playing for Heart & Soul, the holidays have become easier."

As another St. Joseph's performance ends, Jenson folds chairs and puts them away. He overhears one elderly woman whisper to another as they pass by him, "My, that's a tall man." Jenson stops them with one of his wide-open smiles. "It's the hat," he says as he bows and tips it for the ladies. They giggle like young girls.

– Peta Owens-Liston is an editor in the Office of University Communications.

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