Eagle’s Trace Strummers Ukulele band brings joy to participants, audiences
The Eagle’s Trace Strummers is a unique group. The average age of band members is 83, with the oldest at 92. Wherever they perform, miles of smiles can be seen throughout the audience, which is often made up of senior citizens.
Band leader Buddy Griffin has earned recognition for his music not only in the U.S., but internationally. He was inducted into the American Banjo Museum Hall of Fame in 2005.
Years ago, he performed a concert at the Erickson Living retirement community. He showed one woman how to play the ukulele and enjoyed her joyful laughter. That gave him an idea. He offered to teach residents how to play. A group promptly signed up.
People who play the ukulele say it is relatively easy to learn how to play. Also, it’s lightweight, so there’s no problem carrying one around.
When asked how and why he got started with the band, Griffin said, “I had a desire in my heart to help older people. When you get old, the mind and body start wearing out. Laughter is the best medicine for that.”
“He’s the nicest man on the planet. He asked residents if they wanted to learn how to play the ukulele,” said Lisa Hadley, the community resources coordinator at Eagle’s Trace. “It’s a happy place here when they perform. They all have the best time. They put a smile on everyone’s faces.”
Band members are all from the Houston area. Their instruments include ukuleles, piano, bass, drum, harmonica and trumpet. They play standards, classics, country western, jazz and more. The group has even made a CD, which was recorded at Eagle’s Trace. They don’t charge anything for their performances.
“We play all over at places like churches, senior centers, AARP meetings and civic organizations. Eagle’s Trace has an advantage — it has a bus,” said Griffin.
Studies have shown that music has many benefits for seniors. According to a Johns Hopkins University study, music can almost be considered medicine for your mind. Listening to music can prevent increases in heart rate and blood pressure and decrease levels of cortisone — all biological markers of stress.
Stanford University School of Medicine did a study with 30 depressed people who were over age 80. Results showed that participants in a weekly music therapy group were less anxious, less distressed and had higher self-esteem than did non-participants.
Griffin became interested in the banjo years ago. While serious about the musical quality of his performances, he also became a polished showman.
As founder and director of the Jubilee Banjo Band, he led the band in annual performances at The Grand 1894 Opera House in Galveston for over 20 years. He is currently the founder and director of the 55-member “All Stars” Youth Banjo Band made up of players from 8 to 18 years old. He also has led mission trips to Kenya and Tanzania to teach African school children to play the ukulele.
Griffin has been called an outstanding educator. As well as being a great teacher, people say he makes music fun.
“From the beginning, I said that you don’t get too old to play; you get too old because you quit playing,” said Griffin, a retired pastor.
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