Musician with a Mission

By Jane Muller

“You Are My Sunshine” is an old time favourite song but it could also describe George Linton.

He brings sunshine, in the form of familiar tunes, to patients at five Toronto hospitals. The 93-year-old who sings and plays patients’ requests on his guitar, calls himself a musician with a mission. He introduced himself as such when he left a voice message recently, reaching out by phone as is the custom of most Forever Young readers who want to get in touch.

George’s mission is two-fold. For 32 years he has been on a mission to brighten the day for patients with his music. It’s also his mission to encourage fellow musicians and singers to share their musical gifts as hospital volunteers as he does several times each month.

A former journalist with the “Globe and Mail” George has a vast repertoire dating back to the 1930s when he first learned to play guitar as a boy. He’s expanded his musical selections to accommodate requests from immigrants who may want to hear a familiar Polish folk song or a favourite tune of Middle Eastern origins.

He’ll ask patients where they are from and then will draw from the tunes he’s learned from “100 Folk Songs of the World”. It’s the patients who don’t have English as their first language who often feel a greater sense of loneliness, George observes.

Music brings patients joy, especially their favourite melodies. Whether they ask for Johnny Cash, The Beatles, Frank Sinatra, hymns or spirituals, the music has the same uplifting effect.

George’s performances are sometimes “prescribed” to patients by staff that direct him to a specific person who they feel could benefit from his melodious medicine. He recalls visiting a woman in St. Michael’s Intensive Care Unit who was unable to speak. She wrote the title of an old folk song “Seeing Nellie Home” on her clipboard and she was thrilled when he was able to perform her request.

If she could have spoken, she might have echoed the comments of other patients who tell George that he made their day, or their week and even their year! Patients have felt their pain relieved, their appetites returned and their spirits uplifted.

I needed no convincing that music is an elixir and George has given me a great idea for my retirement years. Hoping he’s inspired some of you too.