The Sunshiners Band is a brilliant volunteer band comprised of seven musicians, including some of your community neighbors.
Until recently, the band had 10 members: Doug Cherry, Ed Copeland, Jane Copeland, John Fowler, Nancy Hill, Pam Leighton, Audrey Mytchak, John O’Fiel, Jan Vandenburgand and Lucy Worrell. All are integral parts of this remarkable band of senior citizens (well, almost all are seniors!). Members either sing, play an instrument or both. From Heights to Forest Pines and from Candlelight to Shady Acres, these neighbors gather each Monday like clockwork to practice at the Heights Baptist Church and prepare for their next gig.
They offer a 45-minute to one-hour show of rollicking good humor and nostalgia, which appeals to seniors and “baby boomer” audiences. The Sunshiners Band works for “love offerings” to cover the expenses of the band, which enables it to go forward with its mission. The band has played for 19 years at a variety of organizations and functions, including retirement homes, assisted-living facilities, churches, community centers, hospitals, lodges, senior clubs and private parties.
Some ol’ timey and not-so-ol’ timey tunes are featured along with show numbers and classic country western such as Autumn Leaves, My Irish Rose, Papa Loves Mambo, Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover, Oh Happy Day, Yellow Submarine and many others – the Sunshiners’ list of songs is enormous and varied. The band proudly claims that any song you can name, it can play and sing.
The audiences thoroughly enjoy the music and many times sing along. And it’s hard not to sing along. Folks have been known to be so thoroughly energized by the rollicking tunes they get up and dance! The band shares beautiful stories of its experience seeing audience members respond to certain songs, even after they can no longer communicate or recognize loved ones due to illness.
The Sunshiners believe in the healing qualities of music. Once an audience member had been confined to a wheelchair for many months, but after hearing several of the Sunshiners’ songs, began tapping a foot. Then he began moving his hand. And finally, he sat up straight and held out his hands to be assisted in standing, and then actually began dancing to the delight and amazement of his friends and caregivers. Many happy tears were shed and the powerful message in that story, the ability to reach people through music, is what keeps the Sunshiners eager to greet new audiences and motivated to share their joy with others.
Several of the Sunshiners picked up their instruments after a long hiatus and a completely different career outside of music. Nancy Hill resumed playing her ukulele after putting it away over 40 years ago. Hill said, “I have so much fun doing this. I was one of the shiest people you would have ever met and once I got up and started singing I have found a place where I’m not shy.”
Fowler is an accomplished musician who has made music his livelihood. After cutting his teeth on the saxophone and writing arrangements prior to and during seventh grade, he continued to write, orchestrate, direct and play a variety of music including stage bands, jazz, barbershop quartets and choral music, yet spent his career as a mechanical engineer with a degree from Rice University. He and his wife, Jane, led the “Sounds of Celebration” choir for nearly 20 years at St. John the Divine Episcopal Church in Houston.
O’Fiel has been a Sunshiner for more than a decade and plays the ukulele.
Leighton is an accomplished musician who plays piano, mandolin, guitar, flute, bassoon, andsings, and she is also a busy mother of five who now adds “grandmother” to her list of titles.
Ed Copeland started playing professionally in a club when he was 16, and his dad had to go with him because he was a minor. He traveled the Midwest with the Tiny Hill Band and other dance acts, including The Army Band and Shreveport Symphony Orchestra. He played in dinner clubs, Holiday on Ice, Ice Capades, Barnes & Carruthers Show Company, a group from NASA now called JSC Jazz Band, and he plays every week with Over The Hill Gang (now known as the Lafayette Jazz Band), a Dixieland band. Ed still writes music and scores for shows at times. Ed started playing piano at age 5, the clarinet at age 8, and also plays the saxophone, trumpet, trombone, violin and viola. Ed joined the band in 2014 and has played horns and bass guitar. Jane couldn’t help wanting to join in the fun, so she joined the Sunshiners as a percussionist in 2017.
The group was 10 members strong until recently when the Copelands, married 63 years, retired from the group and Mytchak, the remaining founding member, has gone on sabbatical. The three musicians and friends will be missed.
The band has had many changes and lost some dear friends over the last four years, but it’s welcomed new members Vandenburg on the ukulele, Worrell, who plays ukulele, guitar and piano, and Cherry, who plays a mean bass.
The group is lovingly supportive of one another and takes daily life with a dollop of humor. They seem to have more fun than a barrel of monkeys – and the group is open to new members, but generally anyone interested should play an instrument and if they sing, that’s a bonus. You are invited to join in the fun and come show your stuff at one of their practice sessions – even if you haven’t touched an instrument in years.
Each member is unique and stands out in some singular way – it’s quite a group making a beautiful sound. If you would like to learn more about the Sunshiners, visit their website at www.sunshinersband.com or contact 713-364-2425.