Piano music fills Ozanam Manor's halls
Peaceful, calming melodies from Ozanam Manor’s piano fill the halls of the transitional shelter at St. Vincent de Paul thanks to Roger Scherer, one of newest residents to move in three weeks ago.
Roger, who is 61, says he began “plunking on keys” around the age of three. He comes from a line of musical talent and grew up playing his mother’s piano. Roger is self-taught and even picked up other instruments, joined school music programs and enjoyed a music theory course in high school.
Truly gifted, he doesn’t just play, Roger composes. Over his adult years, he’s put together compositions and arrangements for his family and friends. In fact, much of what people hear in Ozanam Manor from Roger is all improvisation.
His fellow residents come to listen. They say it brings them peace.
“It makes me happy to make other people relaxed and happier,” Roger says, “to make this world a better place by beautifying it. That’s what the arts are for.”
He thinks of music like math and easily strings together chord progressions and flits across changes in key or time like speaking a native language. Playing is so natural for him, it’s simply a part of who he is.
“It's not really that big of a deal,” says Roger, who downplays his talent. He didn’t consider himself a musician until the age of 51. “But when I’m struggling, I can just kind of release that energy through the piano. That’s what I’m doing here [at Ozanam Manor]. There are times when I get done, and I’m just like, ‘Oh my goodness’ [he lets out a sigh]. I’m just relieved, free and open.”
But before coming to Ozanam Manor, Roger didn’t have a piano to play on for four long years. Previously, he had been living with his mother in Vancouver, Washington, and playing on her piano—a familiar comfort—until she moved into assisted living and the piano was sold with the rest of her belongings.
Roger decided to pick up and head to Phoenix for warmer weather, where he found sunshine but didn't have ready access to a piano. And without a network of people, starting again in a new city proved daunting.
In his younger years, he’d served in the Navy in an inventory control position. When he got out, he earned associate degrees in business and electronics and telecommunications. That landed him a job in a startup company for phone cards. Roger eventually left to work in the semiconductor field and had a series of jobs from nursing assistant to teaching English as a second language to elementary school students in Honduras. But none of that translated to stability in Phoenix, where Roger has cycled through jobs—none related to music. He was recently laid off.
Add on medical conditions and skyrocketing rent, and Roger found himself in an extended stay, living off credit cards and paying $1,500 a month. With a week left at the extended stay and no income, he turned to Veterans Affairs.
“They told me that technically I was homeless,” Roger says, “and referred me to Ozanam Manor.”
When he arrived at SVdP, the first thing he noted was Ozanam Manor’s piano room.
“You have a piano?!” Roger remembers exclaiming. “Now every day I wake up, and I'm just so thankful. I thank God for all of this. I have a bed. I have a hot shower. I have a piano. Three free hot meals a day... I mean, thank you, thank you for all of what you do.
“I feel like this is a turning point,” Roger continues, “And this is where I had to get to in order to get what I really needed. And so I'm just trying to utilize the avenues that I have here.”
Never before has Roger considered his musical skill as a possibility for work, but he’s now open to gigs. He hopes to find work soon, move into his own place, save up for a composition course at Arizona State University and start soon another music project he has brewing in his heart.
Know of any gigs or employment opportunities for Roger? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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