The Witherell’s Resident Musicians Take Center Stage!
If you’ve lived, visited, volunteered, or worked at the Witherell, you know that music is a key part of our culture. We regularly host performances by local choirs and orchestras, and even provide music appreciation classes.
Recognizing how music supports the emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being of our seniors, we made a commitment long ago to have two resident musicians on staff. We are so lucky to have both Vincent Galizi and Michael Rinaldi on our Therapeutic Recreation team so that music can be a regular and robust part of daily life at the Witherell.
Vin and Mike, as they’re affectionately called, have been working and performing at the Witherell for 20 years and 3 ½ years, respectively. Not only do they share an impressive background as performers, they’re also dedicated, compassionate, and beloved by our seniors. Here we were able to catch up with Vin and Mike to find out more about the music and work they love at the Witherell
Q: How did you get started in music?
A: Vin Galizi: My grandfather was a musician—a big band leader (conductor) and a trumpet player. I’ve always been a singer and wanted to be a drummer, playing in the style of Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham. However, after attending a concert and seeing the front man playing guitar and singing, I knew that’s where I wanted to be, at the front! So, at age 17, I started playing guitar and writing music. I’m pretty much self-taught as I didn’t have much patience for lessons. I’ve been performing in bands (hard edged original rock and roll and punk in my 20’s and 30’s, and currently in a cover band performing classic rock) for 30 years or so. I’ve also had several acoustic duos and trios over the years as I’m also heavily influenced by singer songwriters of the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s.
A: Mike Rinaldi: My grandfather played many instruments such as guitar, piano, and mandolin, and inspired my love of music. He also influenced other family members as well, such as my brother who plays the drums, and my cousins who sing or play the guitar/bass. With so many of us involved in music, it was easy for us to start a band and play together. During high school we played at bars and clubs and different Italian Feasts. This grew into a business and we began entertaining at weddings, dinner dances, and other events. I still play at weddings and other events and have my own DJ/band through Rinaldi Entertainment.
Q: What made you want to be in therapeutic recreation at the Witherell?
Vin: I had been in music sales management for several years and wanted a change. I saw a “musician wanted” ad for a facility in Greenwich (not NW) and quickly adapted to performing for an elderly population. I found it very rewarding and continue to feel that way. I was only at that facility a year or so when I was asked to join the team at the Witherell, and here I am 20 years later!
Mike: Becoming part of the Therapeutic Recreation team was a great opportunity for me. Here I’m able to put my love of entertaining and playing music together with this wonderful profession. I love working with the residents and this encouraged me to get my certification in Therapeutic Recreation. I have been blessed to be working 21 years in this profession and am grateful that I could turn my love of music into a career.
Q: What do you love most about your job?
Vin: I love the team here at the Witherell. Not only the Recreation team, but the staff in general are like family at this facility. I certainly enjoy the time I spend performing, and love to connect with the residents, whether during music visits in their rooms, or performances in front of large groups. Additionally, there have been several residents now and over the years who were also musicians, and I’ve been able to “jam” with them as well!
Mike: It is so rewarding seeing the smiles on the residents’ faces and watch them sing along, dance, clap, and tap their feet to the rhythm. Their faces really light up when the music starts!
Q: What type of music do you perform? What’s your most requested song or genre of music?
Vin: I play a variety of decades and genres for our residents. Anything from the big band era, to jazz standards, to 50’s rock and roll or even country. Any of these might be requested at any time so I really have to keep on my toes and be prepared. I’m shocked and pleasantly surprised when a resident asks for something more modern such as U2 or the Eagles! As far as the most requested song, there are way too many to mention.
Mike: Even though 80’s music is my favorite to listen and kick back and relax to, I try to learn new songs from all types of music from the 20’s to the present. I practice and learn new songs all the time and have expanded my repertoire to accommodate the songs that most touch the hearts and minds of the residents. The most requested songs are “Bye, Bye Blackbird” and “You Are My Sunshine.”
Q: During COVID, the in-house music program became more important because outside musicians weren’t permitted in. What was that like?
Vin: COVID has made this quite a challenging year for us all and certainly for us musicians! As an acoustic guitarist I had to become a strolling musician, as we could not gather together. It did show me the importance of music to our residents. To see residents come to their doorways and their faces light up as the music began in their hallway, was a beautiful thing! The toughest part of performing during COVID is wearing a mask while singing, it’s not easy.
Mike: With all of the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic and for the safety of the residents, outside visitors or formal activities were not allowed, so we had to get creative. Vin and I began taping videos of ourselves playing together from home and then uploaded the sessions onto the Nathaniel Witherell’s YouTube page so residents could see familiar faces and listen to music that they love. It was a little light in a dark time. Once we were able to come back to work, we still had to be cautious so we began to play music in the hallways instead of the auditorium. Residents listened from their doorways so they could remain socially distant, yet still be part of the music program. I would visit a different floor every day or they could look out their bedroom windows while I played music in the courtyard for all to hear. The residents still enjoyed it even though it was a little different.
Q: Are there any special memories you’d like to share from your time at the Witherell?
Vin: There are many personal stories I could share, many moments and interactions. On my mind lately are my parents. They moved in about two years ago and my dad passed away one year ago. My parents have seen me perform many times over the last 30 years, and to have them here at the Witherell, watching me perform and seeing a tear of joy in my dad’s eye, a smile on my mom’s face, these were/are special moments.
Mike: I have had so many wonderful experiences at Nathaniel Witherell, but my favorite thing is interacting with the residents. There is one resident who claims to be my number one fan! She loves rock and roll and would get everyone moving and shaking during my music programs. She hated ballads and she would say “I love hot music! Don’t play any slow stuff.” She was always full of energy. One day she was missing from my sing a long, so I decided to stop by her room and surprise her with a one-to-one music visit. She definitely was not her spunky self and was weak and lethargic. I spent a while with her playing her favorite Latin music and rock and roll songs. Her family was there during the visit, too. She had to be transferred to hospice but then returned and was soon back to her old self. That was such great news! Her family was so appreciative of my one-on-one visit and said it was the most compassionate thing they ever saw. Their comment really touched my heart, and I can see how the power of music changes and touches lives.