It’s the thought that counts

Grassroots singing group spreads holiday cheer in La Jolla

La Jollans were treated to a series of concerts performed by Sylvia Cavaiola and her singing group this holiday season.

Dec. 10 marked the fourth year Cavaiola’s band of volunteer vocalists made the rounds through Chateau La Jolla, the Riford Center, The Cloisters of La Jolla and La Jolla Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. What the group lacks in finesse - they don’t have a name and some of the singers say they can’t even sing - they more than make up for with generosity, enthusiasm and sincerity.

“None of us are professional singers, but I think we certainly do bring a smile to people’s faces,” said La Mesa resident Joanie Keegan, one of the performers.

Cavaiola, a retired high school teacher who teaches Spanish classes at the Riford Center, happened to mention to her students how much she had always enjoyed Christmas caroling. Gradually the idea of recruiting singers to perform at local residential facilities took hold, and soon Cavaiola was booking holiday gigs for the group.

Comprised of approximately 20 men and women from Cavaiola’s Spanish class and acquaintances from a Red Hat Society chapter, the carolers rehearse just once or twice before taking to the stage. Unlike some choirs that focus on delivering a tuneful recital, these singers are on a mission to spread holiday cheer through the magic of music.

“It’s a lot of work,” said Jim Marr, 71, who accompanies the group decked out in a Santa suit. “At the same time, it’s rewarding from the standpoint of watching the people enjoy themselves.”

Marr added that singing reminds him of how much his mother enjoyed the sounds of the season. Many of their audience members also enjoy the reminiscences.

“It brings back memories when they hear these songs,” said Cynthia Sayson, activities director at La Jolla Nursing and Rehabilitation, adding that even residents who are usually reluctant to participate in activities are lured out of their rooms by the upbeat music.

Accompanied by a pianist, the performers sang a couple of songs and then invited the audience to join in. For individuals who were unable to sing, they provided noisemakers and musical instruments so everyone was able to participate.

Cavaiola, a La Jolla resident since 1989, said her goal is to recreate happy memories and give back to the community.

“I think that the best compensation is to watch the people smile,” she said.

In addition to organizing the singing group, Cavaiola has also been instrumental in sponsoring a family each holiday season.

“Sylvia is such a worker and for her, this is something that’s very important,” said caroler Kathy Marr. “She’s the whole instigator.”

Keegan concurred, adding, “She’s a wonderful, wonderful lady who just, with her sheer enthusiasm, makes people smile.”