LYONS — Not too many towns in America are blessed with a public space as idyllic as Central Park in Lyons, referred to by many as the town square.
Even fewer have a park fixture like Jim Murphy.
The 70-year-old Lyons resident has been pumping out melodies on his organ in the park’s gazebo for more years than he can remember.
His audience can be fleeting. Many who hear his soothing sounds are in town doing business at one of the many county buildings that ring the park. Some are county workers or local attorneys enjoying their lunch breaks. Others come from the nearby senior apartments.
But this isn’t just a lunchtime thing. So long as the weather is decent, you’ll find the retired Murphy — who’s also a longtime volunteer at the Lyons Community Center — playing from about 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day and oftentimes on Saturdays during the Lyons Farmers Market.
“I’ve always loved music,” said Murphy while taking a break from his playing on a sunny and warm Friday morning a couple of weeks ago. “It helps people feel something good about themselves.”
Count Priscilla Weems among his regular listeners and friends.
“He’s a very nice guy,” she said. “He started playing when I was a little girl.”
She’s now 32.
“It’s such a blessing,” she said. “It’s very soothing and relaxing if you sit and listen to the rhythms.”
Murphy was never a professional musician, but music was a big part of his upbringing in Rochester, where he grew up. His mother was a drummer and had her own band. His stepfather was a professional guitarist.
At age 15, he started on the harmonica, moved to guitar and finally settled on keyboards.
Murphy moved to Lyons many years ago to be near his mom, who had moved to the community. He was on disability after a work accident and was getting antsy.
“I had my keyboards at the house, and I got tired of sitting around and doing nothing,” he said. “I thought I’d try it out, and it worked out real nice.”
Joan Delaro, who heads the downtown promotion and development group Lyons Main Street, said Murphy is part of the community’s fabric — from providing music in the park to his contributions to the community center.
“It’s a very small town,” she said. “It’s part of what makes this community. So many people come to us to talk about the music in the park. He just does this for the Lyons community. It’s so important to him to do that.”
Murphy is not paid by the town. The only money he gets for his daily shows comes from a tip jar he places at the steps of the gazebo.
Lyons Town Supervisor Jake Emmel said “it is nice to have someone like Jim that volunteers to take the time to come to the park and play music for others. He puts smiles on people’s faces and does a really nice job.”
County Clerk Mike Jankowski, who spends lots of time criss-crossing Central Park, said Murphy is a true gift to Lyons.
“Everyone benefits from Jim’s playing,” he said. “His playing is a much-appreciated service to the community.”
For years Murphy pulled a cart from his Broad Street home (he doesn’t drive) loaded with stacks of songbooks, along with his keyboard and speakers.
He streamlined his musical equipment over the past few years with a modern Yamaha organ and a single amplified speaker that can put out 2,000 watts of sound.
As for the songbooks, he solved that too, but in a different way.
“I’ve got over 250 songs memorized,” he said.
They range from country, folk, gospel and Christian to ’60s rock.
Murphy keeps playing all day, regardless of how many folks are in the park. And there are days when his audience is of a different variety.
“Sometimes I come down and play and there’s not a soul here,” he said with a smile. “But the birds and squirrels park themselves by and listen.”
Murphy, who is married to wife, Donna, said he’s made lots of friends over the years, like Weems, and plans on playing as long as he’s physically able.
“I have people come up everyday saying this music in the park is real nice,” he said. “It makes them feel good, so it makes me feel good. It’s good for my health. Music kind of soothes the soul.”