He carries a tune where we need it the most

Zach Nayer and his guitar prepare for the weekly Saturday night concert. Photo contributed

 WEST COPAKE—Move over Lady Gaga, Willie Nelson, Dave Matthews and Elton John… make way for Zachary Nayer of West Copake.

Like these celebrities in this time of social-distancing, Zach has been putting on free live concerts from the comfort/safety of his home. He records them in his “music basement” using his Macbook Pro and broadcasts them via the internet.

Zach’s show is on his facebook page. Anyone can go there, it’s open to the public, click on the image of Zach in concert and enjoy the music.

His last three concerts are all there for everybody’s viewing, listening and singing-along pleasure. He estimates up to 300 people have tuned in to see the concerts after they were recorded, with an average of 50 people watching live on Saturday nights.

Adept on guitar, bass, drums, piano, keyboard, ukulele, harmonica and Native American flute, Zach plays and sings a variety of tunes dating from the early 1900s right up to the hits of today. Listeners can comment on his performance and even make a song request—all at: https://www.facebook.com/zachary.nayer.

In a phone interview last week, Zach told The Columbia Paper, if he doesn’t know a song, he’ll learn it, practice it and play it at his next concert. He said he enjoys a challenge and testing his musical ability.

Zach has been going live for the past three Saturday evenings as a way to help people relax, virtually escape self-quarantine and the stress of the coronavirus pandemic, even if just for a little while.

He decided to act on the idea after realizing how many people, some of them his friends, are suffering in isolation with or without the virus.

I’m not doing it to gain a following. I want to give people an option, an outlet in these hard times,” he said. He hopes his concerts give people relief, hope and something to look forward to.

Drawn to music since he was a child, Zach vocalized to “sing-along tapes,” then sang in the school chorus, learned various instruments over the years and played in three bands—alternative, rock and rock/rap. He has also performs in local community theater with the Two of Us Productions.

Zach’s music is not just a hobby—it’s his career. He is a music therapist, currently working full-time at Columbia County’s coronavirus hotspot—Pine Haven Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Philmont.

A 2006 graduate of Taconic Hills High School, Zach, now 32, went on to earn his bachelor’s degree in instrument performance at SUNY Purchase and then his master’s degree in music therapy at SUNY New Paltz.

If Zach’s last name sounds familiar, it may be because he is the son of former Copake Supervisor Jeff Nayer and his wife, Lorraine.

In normal times, Zach divides his on-duty days between Greene Meadows Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Catskill and Pine Haven. But due to the Covid-19 outbreak, Zach travels only to Pine Haven every day.

As a music therapist, he uses music to assist in patients’ recovery, whether the issue involves memory function or a physical challenge.

Around for hundreds of years, music therapy can be useful for anyone from prenatal infants to those on hospice care—in schools, hospitals and nursing homes, said Zach.

The American Music Therapy Association (www.musictherapy.org) describes the practice this way:

Music Therapy is an established health profession in which music is used within a therapeutic relationship to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals.” Based on “the strengths and needs of each client,” music therapists provide “the indicated treatment including creating, singing, moving to, and/or listening to music. Through musical involvement in the therapeutic context, clients’ abilities are strengthened and transferred to other areas of their lives.” It also provides avenues for communication “to those who find it difficult to express themselves in words.

Research… supports its effectiveness in many areas such as: overall physical rehabilitation and facilitating movement, increasing people’s motivation to become engaged in their treatment, providing emotional support for clients and their families, and providing an outlet for expression of feelings.”

In a notable case, music therapy aided in the recovery of Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who was shot in the head during a January 2011 assassination attempt.

Song lyrics helped her regain her ability to speak, said Zach, “It helps rewire the brain to learn a certain task in a different way.”

Under normal circumstances, Zach would work in both individual and group sessions, perhaps playing familiar songs for a group of Alzheimer’s patients to help them use the active parts of their brains to sing-along.

Under current Covid-19 protocols, when Zach enters the nursing home now, he is checked for virus symptoms, his temperature taken and he must put on a full-body coverall, a “bunny suit” as he calls it, along with mask and gloves.

Right now everyone is isolated,” there are no group gatherings or one-on-one visits, but Zach in his protective attire walks the halls singing, stopping outside each patient room for a few moments.

I can’t do much now,” says Zach, “but the music helps everyone cope” and he is not about to stop.

Tune in Saturday night, April 18 at 8:30 p.m.

To contact Diane Valden email

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