Musicians put heart into songs

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Carol Sorgen

A passion for music has defined Ted Zlatin’s life, from his days playing in a teenage band in suburban Baltimore to a career that has covered every aspect of the music business, from promoting records to selling pianos.

Now retired, Zlatin is using that same passion to bring the joy of music to older adults throughout the greater Baltimore area through the Music and Art Traveling Heart Show.

“Music and arts have shown the power to touch a heart and soul, bring back a memory, evoke an emotion, inspire feelings and stimulate the senses,” said the 62-year-old Zlatin, who lives in Howard County.

The vision of the Music and Art Traveling Heart Show, which Zlatin established two years ago, is to enhance quality of life for area seniors. Two of his inspirations are his own parents, ages 92 and 89. “They are why I’m doing what I’m doing,” Zlatin said.

“We strive to bring out emotions with an interaction of musicians, artists, performers, video and audio to find a way to touch their hearts,” said Zlatin.

Members of the band

The group is made up of four musicians: Otis Stroup on keyboard, Jamie Hopkins on bass and Tim Ghiz on drums, with Bruce Thomas as the vocalist. Zlatin himself doesn’t perform, but serves as the band’s executive director.

Stroup has been a mainstay in the Baltimore and surrounding area, playing for more than 20 years at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor Rusty Scupper restaurant Friday and Saturday nights. He is also a regular performer at the popular Café de Paris in Howard County.

Ghiz has been playing drums professionally for 43 years. He has also traveled across the country playing numerous shows on the road. He has performed in many different senior living communities over the years and continues that tradition by playing with the Traveling Heart Show.

“White Lightnin’” Hopkins is a full-time musician, teaching bass and guitar, performing on bass and singing. He has been performing in the area since the age of 13. He also composes and has made numerous recordings with local performers.

Thomas, the vocalist, first took to the stage at age 3. Over the years, he said, his vocal style has been influenced by such artists as Al Jarreau, Frank Sinatra, Al Green and Miles Davis, not to mention his own father, Ralph Thomas, a professional singer.

Thomas once was a full-time singer, but he went back to the “real world” after the birth of his daughter. He started singing again two years ago. In addition to his work with the Traveling Heart Show, he performs at area restaurants and nightclubs, including Café de Paris, Great Sage, Tabrizi’s and others.

Through his day job as branch manager with Options for Senior America, a personal home care organization, Thomas has found a special connection with seniors that he attempts to bring to his performances with the Traveling Heart Show. “I try to put joy into their lives, and music helps me do that,” he said.

 Thomas also looks for people in the audience with whom to connect. “It could be the person who already has a sparkle in her eyes, or on the other hand, it could be the person who sits with his arms folded and needs a special touch.” Literally.

Thomas is a strong believer in both the power of music and the power of a simple touch on the shoulder. “I just want the audience to accept what I can give them,” he said.

Music’s multiple benefits

Numerous studies have shown that music can play a significant role in a person’s health and happiness, particularly later in life. In a study conducted in Switzerland, for example, researchers found that exercising to music reduces the risk of falls among older adults.

Another study has found that learning to play a musical instrument, even late in life, can improve hand-eye coordination and left-brain/right-brain connections, perhaps slowing down — or even preventing — the onset of dementia.

Other groups in the region, such as Encore Creativity for Older Adults and Arts for the Aging, also provide programs designed to engage older adults through the arts to improve their health and enhance their life.

Before establishing the Traveling Heart Show, Zlatin consulted with physical therapists and psychiatrists who work with older adults to get ideas on how to make the show not only entertaining but as beneficial as possible. The advice he kept receiving was to make the performances interactive.

“That’s what we try to do,” he said. “We not only want them to have fun, but to get involved.”

That could mean anything from singing along to dancing, clapping, shaking marimbas, mingling with fellow seniors, or “whatever comes along,” said Zlatin.

He plans, for example, to bring high school kids to performances at senior centers and nursing homes so the generations can interact. In the future, he wants to add videos and art work to the presentations.

“It’s a gumbo of different activities,” Zlatin said, adding that he hopes to do a rock festival for seniors at some point, too. The shows now feature music from the 1940s and ’50s.

“As we get older, we’ll probably start adding the Beatles as well,” Zlatin laughed.

A nonprofit ensemble

The Music and Art Traveling Heart Show is set up as a nonprofit corporation, seeking donations, contributions and grants to help it reach as many seniors as possible. The shows are offered on a regular basis at senior centers and communities throughout the region, often as an open house for families to enjoy.

“Family members love watching the interaction and involvement of their relatives,” said Zlatin. He receives enthusiastic feedback after performances from both audience members and program directors, many of whom comment on the sessions’ upbeat and enjoyable nature.

According to Marian Oser, a program specialist at the Baltimore Country Dept. of Aging, the one-hour program “engages audiences. [They] can’t help but get involved in the fun,” she told Zlatin.

That’s the kind of response Zlatin likes to hear. “The passion we bring to each performance with the engagement of the participants will help us to achieve our mission to enhance the quality of life for senior citizens through music and arts,” he said.

The Music and Art Traveling Heart Show will perform on August 26 at 12:45 p.m. at the Bykota Senior Center, 611 Central Ave., Towson. They will also play later that same afternoon at the Liberty Senior Center, 3525 Resource Drive, Randallstown. Another performance will take place on Sept. 22 at 2 p.m. at Emeritus at Pikesville, 1840 Reisterstown Rd.

In addition, the group will perform at the Beacon’s 50+ Expos on Oct. 30 at Ballston Common Mall in Arlington, Va., and on Nov. 6 at White Flint in N. Bethesda.

Click here to see video of the band performing.

For more information, visit, or contact Zlatin at, (410) 499-9777.