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Cleone and Vincent cement friendship through a love of music

Cleone and Vincent come from very different worlds, but it’s their love of the human voice that connects them. Trained opera singer Cleone, 85, is a resident at HammondCare Wahroonga and Vincent, one of our much-valued volunteers, sings in an Irish pub band. 

Every week when Vincent visits, Cleone greets him like an old friend, even though she doesn’t remember his name.

Tracy, Cleone’s daughter, shares special memories

I remember growing up, my mum always sang. My great-grandfather paid for Mum’s lessons when she showed early signs of talent, training under the same music teacher as Dame Joan Sutherland. Mum could have pursued a great singing career, but my great-grandfather didn’t approve of her marriage so withdrew the support. 

It has always been a source of great joy for us, hearing Mum’s mezzo-soprano voice, and still is. Before moving into aged care, Mum was living with me and my family. We’d listen to her singing in the shower, and it made us weep – to hear something so pure was breathtaking. It didn’t matter that Mum didn’t remember the words.

Her greatest joy was when she was in a church, and she felt that God had enhanced her voice – it was pure in those moments.

We found out about HammondCare Wahroonga while Mum was a client at Richard Geeves social club, which is run by HammondCare At Home. Her regular days there provided respite for both her and us; she loved being with other people in the local community. Mum has always been a very social person.

When Mum sings, she sings from the heart. She’s sung around the world, in the various places where she has lived and worked – South Africa, Mauritius, Albania, Germany – but never professionally. She does it because she loves it. When I took her to the dentist to get new dentures, they asked her to sing, to see if they would fall out. She sang one of her favourites, Jerusalem, at the top of her lungs, and the staff came running – they’d never heard anything like it. 

The carers at Wahroonga are absolute darlings. They treat Mum like she is the most precious person on earth. She really enjoys going to the chapel service held onsite and leading the singing. 

Vincent recently went back to Ireland for a holiday and on the day he landed back in Sydney he came to see Mum. It was so generous of him – she really looks forward to his weekly visits. He sets her world right.

Coffee and lemon tart at the local café is usually on the agenda, as well as singing a few tunes in the local park. She sings Irish songs for him!

Vincent felt a bond with Cleone from the start

I was drawn to volunteering at HammondCare as I used to visit an older client in the community, from my building days. I’d put her bin out every week and share a cup of tea. She died three years ago, and I really missed the opportunity for connection with her generation.

I guess I’m lucky that I can easily connect with people – it’s handy for this role. I like to make people smile. I always get the pub rocking when I play!

I felt a connection with Cleone straight away. When we go out for coffee she says: “a tart for a tart” when she orders her favourite, lemon tart. I always get her to go up to the counter to order her own coffee and cake. She has a brilliant sense of humour and is not afraid to tell it as it is. We have a great banter each time I visit.

She’s a very interesting lady who has had a fascinating life. 

When we stop at the park to chat to the dogs and check out the flowers, I encourage her to sing for the group of locals gathered there, enjoying the sunshine. She sings a favourite or two, ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ being one of them, and they always clap. I sometimes bring a printout for her to follow. ‘Ave Maria’ is another favourite.

Cleone is a special lady. She gives me so much back; I feel fulfilled. 

But it’s the music that bonds us. 


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