Giving Magic


The “magic” of Paloma: Dick Nathan, Joanne Shwed, Alex Reisman, Nancy Colman, Otte Tobiassen, and Tom Ekkens

Photo courtesy of Thomas A. Ekkens

On July 4, 2001, I was sitting in my friend Dick’s San Francisco living room with a number of our musical friends, jamming and having fun — what we call “playing in the sandbox.” I turned to the woman sitting to my right and noticed how well her voice blended with mine.

I excitedly thought, “Oh! This has real possibilities!”

That night, our band, Paloma, was formed. 

On August 1, we performed at the Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco for Bread & Roses. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this wonderful organization, here’s a quote from the Bread & Roses Web page:

“Inspired by a 1912 poem by James Oppenheim, Mimi Fariña [Joan Baez’s sister] selected ‘Bread & Roses’ to convey the spirit of the nonprofit she founded in 1974 to bring the healing power of music and other live art to institutionalized children, teens, adults, and elders [including those in convalescent and nursing homes, prisons, and hospitals].”

Bread & Roses welcomes volunteers who are interested in performing, hosting, working in its Corte Madera office, or helping with such things as catering, sound or photography for its events.

When the members of Paloma realized that we were all long-time Bread & Roses volunteers, the good feelings among us deepened. Dick calls doing this work a mitzvah — a “good deed.” We feel the positive energy as smiles break through empty faces. When Tom plays his banjo, limp toes move up and down. Music is magic!


After the Laguna Honda show, we received a wonderful e-mail, of which we are most proud, from our Bread & Roses host, Sally Peter:

“Paloma gave their usual stellar performance at Laguna Honda. It is such a pleasure to hear them and to watch them! They are a multitalented group with vocals and instruments from spoons to guitars. They really look like they are enjoying themselves!

“The audience was smaller than usual and somewhat subdued, but still very appreciative. Paloma performed an eclectic variety of songs from ‘Blue Bayou’ to ‘It Takes a Worried Man’ to ‘Shimmy Like My Sister Kate.’ Some songs were classics and some were originals, written by members of the group. The introductions for each song added to the enjoyment. It was fun to watch, and listen to, the various instruments that changed with each song. The harmonizing was right on! There were many smiles in the audience with each song.

“The group always ends with ‘Goodnight Irene’ as a sing-along. The audience joined in the chorus each time it came. It was a very unifying way to end a most pleasurable performance. This was Paloma’s fifth visit to Laguna Honda. They are a group that will always be most welcome!”

Yes, it is strange to sing to people who are in various stages of coherence.

Yes, it is distracting to hear IV batteries ding-ding-dinging in the middle of our show — and, may I say, not necessarily in tune!

Yes, I realize that some in our audience may blankly stare at our performance; at the end, however, there will often be someone who will slowly approach us and offer a heartfelt “thank you” for transporting them — even for just an hour — away from their difficult day.

When we can’t “play in the sandbox” anymore, hopefully someone will come to where we are and perform for us!


© 2009 Joanne Shwed