St. Ann's music man The right note: Twice a week, UPS driver Gary Baxter delivers favorite songs to a Baltimore adult day care center during his lunch hour.

February 19, 1996|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

United Parcel Service driver Gary Baxter brought a package to the St. Ann Adult Day Care Center in the spring, but ended up delivering some tunes.

Twice a week, the deliveryman uses his lunch break to play piano at the center on Benson Avenue in Southwest Baltimore.

Mr. Baxter, who took piano lessons as a child and resumed them three years ago, volunteered to play at St. Ann's a few weeks after hearing another pianist entertain its mostly elderly clients.

"One day I heard someone playing the piano in here and then I didn't hear any music for a long time," said Mr. Baxter, 49, during a break from performing at the center last week. "It gave me something to do on my lunch hour other than sitting under a tree somewhere."

Denise Blair-Nellies, St. Ann's program coordinator, said Mr. Baxter's playing adds "ambience" while providing a stimulating activity for the center's 30 adults.

"They sit and they socialize and when he plays ragtime they get up and dance," Mrs. Nellies said. "He's very outgoing and good with the participants," she said.

"If they request a song that he doesn't know, within two weeks he learns it," center director Audrey L. Besmanoff said. "He's very talented."

Mr. Baxter's fingers fly across the keys as he plays. Sometimes it's classics and sometimes novelty tunes, but always there is that special request from an audience member.

"With this group, it's always 'Let Me Call You Sweetheart,' " said Mr. Baxter, dressed in the signature brown UPS uniform. "They love that song."

The 23-year UPS worker also plays every other week at the Westminster retirement home where his 94-year-old grandmother lives. He said he loves playing and enjoys being "St. Ann's Piano Man."

"I think I enjoy playing for them more than they enjoy listening," he said. "It's difficult for me sometimes to perform in front of people, but with the older folks, they don't care if you make a mistake."

Eleanor Weston, 77, sits beside Mr. Baxter at the piano, firing off her requests, which usually include "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." Julia Acosta, 60, taps her foot to the music and waits to hear her favorite, "Achy-Breaky Heart."

Dorothy Knight, 76, said Mr. Baxter's playing reminds her of growing up in a household in Riverview, Ala., with three aunts who were pianists and "played that piano day and night."

"He plays so good, I'm going to get him to teach me," she said.

Ms. Knight, who has Alzheimer's disease, sits quietly listening to the music while other participants around her dance a jig. That is, until Mr. Baxter breaks into a jaunty rendition of "Ain't She Sweet."

"Oh yeah," she says, clapping her hands. "I like that."

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