By Alice E. Gerard
A love of music and of Grand Island prompted Carolyn Laskay to write "Our Grand Island" in 1990. After a few years, however, the song was forgotten, until about a year ago, when it was re-introduced at the Golden Age Center, said Mary Cooke, who spent a good deal of time there as town supervisor. Cooke explained that Martha Muller of the Golden Age Center approached her and gave her a copy of the music.
Cooke said that Muller told her, "We sing this song in the Golden Age Chorale. It would be neat if a school would perform it." She asked Cooke to look into this for her. Cooke said that, when she heard the song, she immediately thought about music teacher Renee Michki at Kaegebein Elementary School.
"She taught my children at Kaegebein," Cooke said. "I reached out to her to ask her if she wanted to have younger people perform her song."
Michki said that the original plan was for the children to sing "Our Grand Island" at the fall concert in December. Unfortunately, Laskay was ill and was unable to attend the concert. Michki said that she wanted to have Laskay at the concert when the song was premiered, so she arranged to have it performed during the spring concert April 27.
Michki said that singing "Our Grand Island" was a great opportunity for the children.
"The kids were honored to do the song and to meet the composer," Michki said.
Michki sent an invitation to the Golden Age Center, for their members to attend the concert. According to Cooke, a potluck supper was held at the Golden Age Center prior to the concert. Nearly every seat at the concert was filled. "The kids love to perform for a full house," Michki said.
According to Michki, "I loved it (the song). The kids had a wonderful time," adding the event gave her students a chance to give back to senior citizens and older adults.
Laskay said that she wrote "Our Grand Island" as a tribute to the community she loves. She said that the Grand Island school system helped her grandson, who was struggling in school. She said that he had attended a school in Buffalo, where it was determined that he could not learn. After he and his family moved to Grand Island, it was discovered that Laskay's grandson did not understand verbal instructions and needed to have written instructions so that he could learn more effectively.
"He is now a great computer expert," Laskay said. "I have many loved ones on the Island. It is a very close community. That is why I wrote the song."
Michki said that she shares Laskay's sentiments about Grand Island. "It's been a wonderful place to raise my four children," she said.
Laskay said that she wrote this song and many others to celebrate the gift of music. Her mother, Twila O'Malley, was a music teacher, who gave private lessons in piano, organ, and vocals. By the time that Laskay was 2 years old, she was a singer. "I sang alto at two," Laskay said. A contralto, Laskay performed in duets with her sister, the late Lucy Mock-Helbig, who played the auto harp.
Laskay is now the director of the Golden Age Chorale. "Our Grand Island is one of their favorite songs," she said.
"I've lived music all my life. Everything sings. Everything is music. Trees make a sound. The wind makes a sound. When a cat purrs, it is singing a song. The dog sings if I am. Scientists have proven that the stars sing," Laskay said.
Laskay explained music is good for people of all ages, from the children in the elementary school choirs to the older adults in the Golden Age Chorale. "When you sing, you use your mind and your memory. Your mind stays healthy. It's like using a muscle. Music feeds your mind and your body."
Michki said that she would like to continue the connection that Kaegebein now has with the Golden Age Center.
Laskay, right, is pictured with Christine Clendening, the music teacher at Sidway Elementary School, where she teaches kindergarteners and first-graders. The concert was a collaborative project between Kaegebein's music and art departments. (Photos by Alice E. Gerard)