Hilda Ross resident Lorene Elliot got her first taste of village life after playing popular songs of yesteryear on the piano for care centre residents.
Her piano playing started off in one resthome and word soon spread to include most aged care centres in the Hamilton area, giving her a fair idea of what would appeal when she too came of age.
“Hilda Ross was very much on my radar, going back some 16 years or so. It was the venue that impressed me most and it became my choice as a retirement village. I moved in two years ago,” says Lorene.
It didn’t take long for Lorene to settle in, with an opportunity to show what she was made of arising when the Triple A instructor went on holiday for two weeks.
“I suggested line dancing lessons for the two weeks, having done a bit of line dancing in the Workingmen’s and Cossie clubs. Well, they came in their droves!”
Lorene was blessed with opportunities as a child growing up in South Otago, with her mother encouraging her and her four siblings to take piano and dancing lessons, and young Lorene regularly competed in Highland dancing competitions before moving on to rock’n’roll lessons as an adult.
After getting married and raising three children she made sure to give them the same opportunities, this time steering them into the brass band movement.
“They excelled beyond our wildest dreams,” she says.
Once the children were established in their own lives, Lorene returned to her first love – music – in no small measure.
At 50 she took up an opportunity to learn percussion for Hamilton City Brass. She learned to play a wide range of instruments including timpani, xylophone, glockenspiel, and vibraphone and performed with the band in contests around the country as well as in concerts locally.
Young Lorene in her Highland dancing gear (left) and (right) in her Christmas outfit as a child growing up in Milton, South Otago. And as a percussionist for Hamilton City Brass with her son Mason as musical director (below).
Highlights included playing synchronised patterns in a side drum trio using fluorescent drum sticks under black light, a xylophone solo with band accompaniment at Clarence Street Theatre, and playing percussion in a two week run of the musical Miss Saigon at the Founders Theatre.
One of the biggest privileges of her percussion career, she says, was being a member of Hamilton City Brass with her son Mason as musical director.
As well as piano and percussion, Lorene has learned ukulele through U3A and has even developed an interest in bell ringing.
“With my percussion experience this was right up my alley and it wasn’t long before I was leading the handbell group at St Peter’s Cathedral.”
An idea to broaden her campanology skills by learning to play the tower bells in the belfry at St Peter’s did not end so well, however.
“I am sorry to say that this was the biggest failure of my life, ending up with me at the Anglesea Medical Centre after the bell's stay, which is what stops the half-tonne bell turning 360 degrees, broke! Enough said!” she laughs.
Despite this near miss, it hasn’t put Lorene off from trying new hobbies.
She and village friend Mary started playing petanque together, even in the rain, and during the Covid lockdown they took up outdoor bowls for the first time.
As with her music, Lorene fully applied her focus to the task.
Lorene (centre) and the line dancers at Hilda Ross, including the solo male, Ron Horne. The ladies, from left, are Elizabeth Carlisle, Fiona Green, Mary Collins, Stephanie Mackie, Jill Louw and Janice Smith.
“We practiced and practiced and practiced. At first it was daunting but we’re doing okay – it’s a new challenge.”
She has also put on an hour-long concert with another resident in the village, Fiona, who plays violin in a local orchestra, accompanying her on the piano, much to the enjoyment of the residents.
And while the numbers of line dancers have dropped off from the initial buzz, Lorene remains as committed to their success as ever.
She continues to encourage the group at weekly sessions and they perform at concerts within the village.
“Dancing is a cognitive activity and it really does your brain a service by committing the steps to memory.
“I have choreographed dances to suit this specific group and it makes me emotional seeing it all come together. I feel so proud of them.”