Portland musician turns to YouTube videos for seniors
Portland musician John Van Beek has turned to videos to keep bringing his tunes to the senior citizens who love them.
Although he is only 38, the guitarist is a fan of the music from bygone times and has been performing before appreciative audiences in area senior centers for years. Bookings had gotten so good, Van Beek even quit his maintenance job late last year to devote full time to his business, Music We Remember.
But when the COVID-19 outbreak hit, his clients began cancelling his appearances to prevent their residents from potentially being exposed to the novel coronavirus that causes it. Rather than trying to keep the remaining ones, Van Beek voluntarily stopped visiting them, too.
Instead, he began producing weekly YouTube video of performances that can be played in all of them. He records in a modest studio in the garage at his Southeast Portland home, which he calls The Ranch House. Each 30-minute video features intimate performances of some of his most familiar songs from the past, such as "Pennies From Heaven," "Blue Skies," "Dream a Little Dream of Me" and "My Blue Heaven."
"The studio is wedged between the upright freezer and a pile of guitar cases. It's very classy, and state of the art. I do my best to unplug the freezer and make sure the furnace isn't running before hitting 'record,'" Van Beek joked.
Despite the modest setting, Van Beek said he hopes the videos can help bring some joy to the residents he has gotten to know.
"My hope is to serve my regular listeners in these times of social distancing and isolation. Most retirement communities are in a state of complete lockdown with no outside visitors, and some even to the point of residents confined to their apartments. It makes sense, as we try to limit the spread of the current pandemic, but is also a giant shift and challenge for the life enrichment teams with whom I regularly work. Weekly video performances from a familiar face may do something to lift spirits for the time being," said Van Beek.
The feedback so far is encouraging.
"John, Memory care is loving your videos!!! Thank you for helping us with your witty jokes and familiar tunes. One resident's shoulders started moving and grooving after she was feeling a bit down, so I wanted to let you know how much you impact these residents and us as well. We appreciate you!" Phern Wright, a manager at Touchmark in the West Hills said in an email.
But, even more, Van Beek said the free videos allow him to reach even more seniors.
"These broadcasts are, of course, available to a wider audience, if communities across the nation would like to use them," said Van Beek.
Other muscians are doing the same thing, some with digital "tip jars" on their websites.
Although his income has dropped off like many, if not most, other entertainers, Van Beek said he plans to keep producing videos as long as possible.
"Fortunately, I have put away enough in savings to get by for maybe two months. My wife stocked up on food staples and just planted our garden, so we should be set for several more weeks without having to go grocery shopping. But, once we're halfway through savings, I will likely seek some alternative source of income for the time being," Van Beek said.
On the other hand, there's always the possibility — however unlikely — that he could become a YouTube star.
"If my 'work from home' approach takes off on a large scale, I will likely invite the various retirement communities benefiting to contribute a nominal subscription fee. But these are hard times for everyone and there's no telling what the overall situation will look like in one, two weeks time," Van Beek said.
"As always, I encourage my listeners to stay put, stay well, keep a smile on their faces, and a song in their hearts."
The Portland Tribune previously profiled Van Beek in a story titled "Portland singer reaches back to touch memories with music." You can find it at tinyurl.com/rm63ebb.
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