The power of song is one tool Myra Gourley uses with residents at Sunrise Assisted Living in Alexandria, but her singing career doesnt stop there. When she visits Alzheimers and hospice patients at hospitals in Alexandria and Fairfax, her singing brings smiles to many faces, including her own. Its like youre giving them a gift, she said.
In addition to singing for seniors at Sunrise, she finds herself at open mic night at Tiffany Tavern on King Street, or with her band at The Salun in Georgetown. And soon she will be in front of thousands of people performing at the Alzheimers Memory Walk on the Mall in D.C. for the Alzheimers Association.
Im lucky because I can justify singing with my day job, she said.
Her world at Sunrise collided with the open mic night many months ago after she got into a conversation with Mike Whalen, who was visiting his mother at Sunrise. Gourley mentioned singing for the residents, so Whalen invited her to sing at Tiffanys and it grew from there.
Every few weeks, Gourley gets up with the house musicians Whalen, Andy Nocero and Cindy Whalen to sing country and rock songs from the heart. She even tried out for the American Idol television spot at the State Theater in Falls Church, singing The Rising Sun, made famous by The Animals in the 1960s.
There were moments along the way that influenced her performing before for a crowd. As a child, she took classical guitar lessons, then branched out into singing but was sidetracked after a bad experience in sixth grade while singing a solo. I passed out in the middle of the song and hit my head, she said.
She also travels to other assisted living facilities in the area, singing and networking, and occasionally gets a wedding gig with her band, The Vic Chase Project.
Gourley had no qualms on a recent Wednesday evening, standing up in front of a bar full of people at Tiffany Tavern with Whalen on guitar and Larry Tapper on harmonica. Nocero, the host at Tiffanys, has been running open mics around Alexandria for the past 30 years.
The purpose of this is it gives people an opportunity to learn a stage presence and the use of a microphone, he said. Hes seen guys come in with suits on, have a few beers with friends and the next thing, hes Elvis Presley, Nocero said.
Gourley did the same thing in Tiffanys one night after work and now she identifies herself loosely with a closet rock star. Shes just waiting to be discovered, said her friend Peter Robinson.
Tiffany owner Ted Karanikolas has had these get-togethers at the restaurant for 15 years and has heard all kinds of music. Most of the acts are very good, he said. Everybodys hoping to be a star.
There is nothing fancy about Tiffanys and thats part of the magic. Its a bar with tables to enjoy good food and a space in the front window for the musicians. Karanikolas just uses the music to attract people. Im against a cover charge, he said.
There are bluegrass acts at the well-known nightspot on the weekends as well.
Thats a perfect atmosphere for Gourley to practice her hobby. She does have a routine before getting up there, though. She gets tense and nervous, then sleepy, then she follows it with a hot cup of tea.
I have stage fright and it goes away once Im up in front of people, she said. She is looking forward to the Memory Walk performance.
I cant think of a more rewarding volunteer opportunity, she said.