NJ.com — In 2019, long before the first reported outbreak of the coronavirus, as Stephanie Gaber — the “Escapades” Producer at Brandywine Living Princeton, an assisted living facility in South Brunswick Township — made her way through the halls, she would sometimes hear music. Two residents, Ed Beckerman, 92, and Paul Gall, 69, would each strum their guitars alone in their rooms.
Always on the lookout for the next event, or “escapade,” she had an idea.
“I thought it would be really nice if I could get the both of them together to see if we could form some kind of a little duet,” she said.
They were each a little rusty so she decided some guitar lessons were in order. After interviewing a handful of teachers, she found Matthew Robinson, of Skillman.
“He seemed to really fit the bill I wanted for our residents,” Gaber said. “He was upbeat and had the interest to work with our seniors.”
After a couple of lessons, the “Hot Rock Cafe” concept was born, where the musicians could share their music and entertain the other residents.
Escapades have been tough to produce during the pandemic.
“This is the most challenging time I have ever experienced programming for the seniors,” Gaber said. The music program had to be paused at the height of the pandemic.
Still, optimism and perseverance are job requirements for someone in her position. In April, residents were able to have “really small social distance groups” which they named “6 by 6″ — six residents, all six feet apart.
Now, the escapades director said she is happy to reengage with their guitar lessons program and so after setbacks and reschedules, the Hot Rock Cafe is back.
“We’re doing the best that we can and were social and safe,” she said.
Spacing out participants at a recent musical event didn’t adversely affect the vibe of the concert, since as guitar teacher Matthew Robinson noted, “The music brings us together, especially now. It shows all the time.”
The show included Beckerman and Gall playing such old-time favorites as “You Are My Sunshine” and, “I’m a Believer.”
“I grew up at a time where everyone either played a piano or guitar, mostly guitar and mostly folk songs,” Beckerman said. “It was typical of the period. I still play today, I taught my kids to play. It’s fun.”
His partner, Gall, a polished performer, said he’s played guitar and sang in many bands, electric and acoustic.
“I loved guitar ever since I heard cowboy songs on a record (his mother got him). ‘Git along little doggies!” he said. “Then of course it morphed into the Beatles and rock and roll and heavy metal then we started writing our own stuff.”