PROVINCETOWN — Every Thursday afternoon, the hallways of the Council on Aging are filled with song. Follow the sound to its source and you’ll find Mary Abt and a handful of seniors seated in a circle, strumming ukuleles and singing everything from Bob Marley to Beauty and the Beast.
“The problem with adults is that they have a preconceived notion about what they should be able to do at this point in their lives,” says Abt. “But there are no mistakes. I don’t care if you play a C chord the whole time, as long as you’re playing something.”
Abt, one of Provincetown’s Seniors of the Year to be honored at this week’s 4th of July parade, started Grace Notes, a singing-and-ukulele club, with her friend Pauly Saunders nearly 13 years ago. The group has convened weekly ever since and even navigated Zoom sing-alongs through the thick of the pandemic. The Zoom meetings gave many, including home-bound senior citizens, a joyful space to gather during a lonely stretch.
“Oh, my gosh, you guys are gonna make me cry tears of joy,” she says halfway through the Grace Notes’ in-person rendition of the Beauty and the Beast theme song last Thursday.
For Abt, music is not a hobby but a vital element of life, akin to water or air. For this reason, she thinks everyone should sing and play, no matter their ability.
“Music teaches you about a beauty you can’t see or touch,” says Abt. “You don’t know why it’s beautiful, but it is, and it makes the hair on your arms stand up.”
Abt landed on the Outer Cape in 1996, when the universe presented her with the opportunity. “I listen to universal calls,” she says with a distant look in her eye. “I think I have a plan, and then things just happen.”
Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Abt was a lead singer for two bands and delivered singing telegrams when she lived in Philadelphia. But as the oldest of 10 children, she says, it was teaching that came most naturally to her. She taught music at the Truro Central School until she retired in 2019.
“I’m not retired, I’m re-wired,” she says. Meanwhile, she is planning to apply for a busker’s license to bring her music to the streets of Provincetown. She coordinates music at the Unitarian Church. And she teaches private lessons to a handful of students.
Not all her students are seniors. About one of them, age nine, she says, “He’s excited about music, I’m excited about music. He’s got so much information to tell me. I’m learning so much from him.”
Abt is open to new songs as well as old. She cites Lizzo and Lorde as two of her recent favorite artists.
“For the times they are a-changin’,” she sings, punctuating the thought.