Jentri Colello spends a lot of time pondering time. As a professional gardener, she watches plants reach toward the sun all summer, then retreat as frost approaches in the fall. When singing with her band, Land of Vandals, she watches clock hands creep toward 2 a.m. at local bars. She yearns to visit the past in her imagination, but she often can't picture it - not without hearing good stories.
Luckily, Colello has befriended many storytellers who know the past well. They live at local nursing homes. She visits three such homes regularly - Sunny Hill Health Care Center in Madison, Oak Park Place in Monona and Four Winds Manor in Verona - with the Volunteer Musicians Brigade.
The project began in March, as Colello mourned the loss of her last living grandparent.
"I spent a lot of time with all of my grandparents," she explains. "I'm inspired by stories of the way they lived. It's the only way I know how to experience history, other than books. It's as close as you can get to time travel."
Colello longed for a way to remember her loved ones and forge new ties to the past. Then she had an idea: a project to help seniors and young adults build friendships through music. She emailed her local musician buddies to gauge interest. Within hours, her inbox was flooded with yeses, which yielded several gigs. Robby Schiller, frontman of the on-hiatus Americana band Blueheels, now visits Sunny Hill each week, where he plays covers of the residents' favorite songs. Rockers such as Tom Teslik and Corey Hart perform original material at short concerts, and other volunteers tickle the ivories during meals.
Even Biff Blumfumgagnge of Gomers fame has signed up. During his last visit, he played silent films while creating a live soundtrack with his violin.
Though musicians can play whatever they'd like, Colello encourages them to challenge both themselves and the listeners.
"This is a totally different generation in the audience. When many of them first encountered rock 'n' roll, it was as worried parents, so rock might still be a challenge to listen to," she says. "I'm hoping that everyone will step outside their comfort zones, and that we can expand into more nursing homes."
First things first, however. The group needs more musicians, and it has organized a party to recruit new faces. The event, "A Musical Matinee," takes place at the Majestic Theatre on July 22 at 2 p.m. The Stellanovas kick off the fete with a jazz set, and then Schiller croons Rat Pack tunes. In between, attendees can enjoy the modern silent film The Artist.
Unlike most Majestic shows, this one will have nursing-home residents in the crowd. Prospective volunteers can introduce themselves and chat about music over snacks donated by Underground Food Collective.
Colello hopes to hear a story about dancing, one of her clan's favorite pastimes.
"Most of my grandparents grew up going to hear big bands. There would be a dance at a social hall every week, and people would go with their friends," she says. "Everybody knew how to dance back then, so the music had this whole other meaning."