Accompanied only by a Casio keyboard and their voices, Union City employees Kennedy Ng and Lucio Fernandez brightened the holidays for over 50 seniors last week when they played a live mini-concert for the residents of the 3700 Palisade Ave. Senior Center in Union City.
Covering many older standards, the music brought smiles and laughter from the assembled folks. Some sang, some clapped along, and a few simply looked hungry. And who could blame them, as the almost overpowering smell of homemade Thanksgiving dinner wafted through the air.
Ng, who played an electric piano, deftly tinkled the ivories on such songs as “This is the Moment” from “Jekyll and Hyde” and Cuban standards like “El Monisero” and “Biel Canela.”
But the true musical highlight of the evening was the singing of Lucio Fernandez. Fernandez, who is an accomplished performer and bandleader as well as the deputy director of public affairs in Union City, wowed the seniors (and everyone else present) with a voice that needed no amplification. His voice rang through the din of conversation and clanging pots and pans. It didn’t seem to matter to Fernandez that he was standing in the cramped confines of a senior center’s cafeteria. To watch him, it seemed that when he closed his eyes and hit a particularly high note, he was standing on the stage of Carnegie Hall, so dynamic was his performance.
In fact, a few of the more able-bodied residents got up and danced, allowing the music to take them away. It appeared at a few points that Fernandez was quite possibly lip-synching as his voice sounded so clean and clear. But alas, there was no trickery involved, simply a voice that has been trained by years of performing, both on stage and screen.
Fernandez also accompanied Ng with various percussion instruments on tunes that had no vocals. Ng, who has been profiled in past Reporter articles, was less demonstrative in his performance, but laid the musical groundwork with impressive keyboard playing and even sang on a few of the tunes.
Thanksgiving food with Latin flair
The food, provided by the Union City Housing Authority, was a scrumptious cornucopia of traditional Thanksgiving dishes, but with (of course) a Latin flair. In addition to the usual turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing, there was also “molo,” which is black beans and rice (frijoles negros y arroz) and “empanadas.” The cultural makeup of the senior residents who attended the party appeared to be a mix of Latinos and others, so everyone appeared satiated by the fare.
During a break in the performance, Fernandez commented on what motivates him to volunteer his time to the seniors. “In the beginning, it’s really about entertaining the residents and making them feel good,” said Fernandez. “But a funny thing happens. You start feeling good yourself. It becomes a back-and-forth thing. You get what you give.”
Fernandez admitted to a strong respect and admiration for older folks, possibly, he said, because he grew up without grandparents. Said Fernandez, “I was always the little kid who you would find talking to the old guy on the steps. I’ve always had a soft spot for older folks. It touches something very deep within me.”
A few residents commented in between bites of their food.
“This is great. They do this every year for us and it just keeps getting better. We love it,” said one resident. Another commented, “It is very good for us. It is really nice of them to come play for us.”
Kennedy Ng, who is the Union City Community Affairs director, commented on what drives him to volunteer his time.
“I feel I am giving back what this society has given me,” he said. “They are at a stage in their lives when they are resting. They worked for us, so whatever we have is because of their work.”