There are three requirements to be a "Hope Note."
You must be able to play the accordion, violin, keyboards, flute, mandolin, slide guitar or any of half a dozen other instruments (preferably more than one).
You must be able to sing or at least yodel.
And you must be one of Anita Jacobson's grandchildren.
"Grandma Anita," as 70-year-old Jacobson prefers to be called, is founder and director of Grandma's Hope Notes, a "musical orchestra" composed of 14 of her grandchildren. The five males and nine females range in ages from 12 to 28.
The group, based in Anchor Point, is in its eighth year performing free of charge for senior citizens at retirement homes, senior centers, nursing homes and veterans centers.
Monday afternoon, the group played for a standing room only crowd at Heritage Place, a skilled nursing facility in Soldotna. More than 30 residents were parked two-deep in their wheelchairs when the Hope Notes took the impromptu stage, made by pushing aside some tables in the dining room.
The brothers, sisters and cousins were dressed in matching, country-western outfits.
Anita Jacobson applauds her grandchildren following a song.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
The gals looked like cowgirls gussied up for a night on the town. A small herd of silver spangles studded their burgundy vests and ankle-length, denim skirts.
The guys were dressed in all black, like Johnny Cash, except for the silver spangles.
The whole group sported western shirts, complete with manes of black tassels trailing down their sleeves.
The group easily could have been mistaken for something out of a 1930s Hollywood musical western, say, Gene Autry's back-up band.
The group's "singing cowboy" look squares perfectly with the band's play list.
Grandma's Hope Notes specialize in songs the seniors it plays for grew up with. That is, classic country-western, blues, jazz, traditional ballads and even polka.
Grandma Anita played master of ceremonies for the show and kept the mood light.
"We're gonna play the St. Louis Blues," she announced to the audience. Then she added with a grin, "But we don't want you to be blue. We want you to get into the rhythm of it and smile."
Before cuing the band, Grandma Anita looked back over her shoulder and reminded the audience, "Remember to smile."
The reminder wasn't necessary. The seniors not only smiled, but many of them kept time by patting their knees or tapping their feet. A few folks nodded their heads to the tune.
Grandma Anita doesn't come off as a task master, but she seems to be something of a perfectionist. A minute and a half into the Hope Notes' rendition of The Wabash Cannonball, Grandma stopped the band cold.
The hobo ditty has been recorded by countless bluegrass and country acts, most famously The Carter Family, Roy Acuff and his Smokey Mountain Boys and, "The Man In Black" himself, Johnny Cash.
The opening of the tune mimics a locomotive chugging up to speed. Apparently, Grandma Anita didn't think her grandchildren were pouring on enough steam.
"This ol' train is draggin'," she told the audience, then scowled jokingly at her grandchildren
"Now let's get goin'," she called out, as she directed the band to kick the tune off from the top.
At the end of the hour-long concert, the band members circulated through the seniors, shook hands and passed out postcards, designed by "Hope Note" Delina, as gifts. The group also donated a copy of its latest CD to Heritage Place.
The reason Grandma's Hope Notes donates so much time and energy to giving free performances is simple, according to Grandma Anita: "We love to see the smiles."
The group will perform today at noon at the Nikiski Senior Citizens Center and Friday at noon at the Soldotna Citizens Senior Center.
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