NEWARK — At 3:30 p.m., Jean Bendix heads over to the piano in her living room, clicks on Facebook Live on her tablet and welcomes all to another name-that-tune session, mixed in with requests from an audience that even includes her mother.
On this day, the first name-that-tune offering comes from an old classmate at Wayne Central, Carla Boerman, who wants to hear a song Bendix performed at Boerman’s wedding some 42 years ago.
And with that, Bendix, a retired vocal music instructor, pulls out her Carpenters’ songbook and hits the first five notes on her piano of one of the brother-sister duo’s classics, and those watching start guessing.
It didn’t take her Facebook audience long to answer with “We’ve Only Just Begun,” a 1970s and ‘80s wedding and prom staple.
Bendix proceeds to perform the song in full, as well as other Carpenters classics in the name-that-tune portion of her Tuesday session.
“The Carpenters were my life growing up,” she tells her audience. “Even though I was a soprano (Carpenter was a contralto, the lowest range for a woman), I wanted to be Karen Carpenter.”
She didn’t become Karen Carpenter, but she accomplished much in her 30-plus years as a vocal music teacher, her first 11 years at her alma mater, Wayne, and 20 more in Newark. There her nickname was “Mama B” for the motherly guidance she provided so many students. She retired from Newark in 2016, but still gives music lessons.
While music education was her career, Bendix never lost her love for the stage, and with her Facebook performances she has found a way to bring together those countless people she has touched over the years amid a coronavirus outbreak that has left many of us sheltering in our homes as part of an effort to reduce COVID-19’s spread.
For her, reaching out on Facebook to connect with friends and former students with music and uplifting words was natural with so many people in isolation.
Bendix said the idea for a daily online performance came not from Facebook but from a YouTube performance of the jazz standard “Body and Soul,” for her mother, Rev. Mary Martin.
“My mom couldn’t figure out how to see it (on YouTube),” said Bendix, so she posted it on her Facebook page. A former student saw the performance and suggested she do something live on Facebook.
Last Thursday, she did, and has continued daily performances since then, with a church hymn special for Sunday. Bendix’s late father, Edward Simpson, is where she said she got her musicality, noting he had a wonderful singing voice.
Name-that-tune was a regular thing growing up in her hometown of Walworth, said Bendix.
In that first show last week, she took out her Reader’s Digest songbooks and did a name-that-tune-with-seven-notes, with show tunes the genre of the day.
Her Facebook audience, which also includes music teacher cohorts, loved it, sending likes and loves and comments while she performed with bravado.
One of the admiring audience members was Bethany Comella, who sang in Bendix’s Newark choir from 1998 to 2002.
“I wasn’t much of a singer, but she always made choir fun,” said Comella, who is a church keyboard player when not working for the Wayne County Soil and Conservation District. “I think one thing I’ve enjoyed with the Facebook Live performances is getting to appreciate her not as a teacher, but as a musician. I’m a pianist, and for Jean to just be able to sit down at the piano and not only play the tunes but know the melodies to whatever people request shows such a depth of musicianship that I wasn’t always privy to, or interested in, as a teenager. It’s been fun, and we certainly need bright moments like this.”
That’s what Bendix wants to hear and why she plans to keep doing this as long as we are all cooped up in our homes.
“I think maybe it pulls them out of the scariness of the day,” she said. “We’re talking about being blessings to each other. It’s so important that we take time to take care of each other and that we focus on what’s important. There’s nothing more important than taking care of our friends and neighbors.”
Her Facebook friends hope she continue to provide a little joy amid a public health emergency that has drained many people emotionally and, for some, financially.
“You are definitely the sunshine everyday in (these) troubled times,” posted Terrie Dion while Bendix performed Tuesday. “Please keep doing this.”
Bendix said she plans to do just that, and she might even continue with weekly performances when the coronavirus crisis subsides.
“It really is fun,” said Bendix. “It really is.”