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Tickling the ivories

Lifelong pianist plays music and memories

Created date

July 24th, 2012

Shortly after Nancy and Donald Mills moved to Ann s Choice, Erickson Living s community in Bucks County, Pa., she noticed that each of its restaurant lounges had a piano. So one evening before dinner, I sat down and started to play, she says. I got a good response so I kept it up. Playing the piano is the thing I do. I want to bring joy to people. Although Nancy studied classical music as a child, her heart belonged to popular melodies. Once her children were in school, she played in venues ranging from retirement communities to restaurants, weddings, department stores, and holiday open houses at a governor s mansion.

Playing memories for her friends

Nancy specializes in tunes from the 1920s through the 1950s, the songs we grew up with, continually heard, and danced to, she says. She has amassed a large collection of sheet music and CDs and has produced four CDs of her own. Because she doesn t play music so much as she plays memories, she s also a music historian. She does research to discover her repertoire s original arrangements, as those are the ones her audience remembers. When the Mills retired and moved to North Carolina, Nancy played in retirement communities. She quickly learned her listeners favorites. One couple, who always sat near the piano, loved when she played their song. Another evening, as she finished playing It s Been a Long, Long Time, a man came up and said that was the first song he d heard when he put his feet down on American soil after returning from WWII. Calling up memories like those means as much to Nancy as it does to her listeners.

Entertaining rain or shine

Nancy has entertained her Ann s Choice neighbors for seven years, taking time off only for travel. And she doesn t let ailments get her down. When she graduated from crutches to a wheelchair following foot surgery this winter, her husband wheeled her to the piano. When her boot finally came off, Nancy walked in on her own. When hand surgeries hampered her playing, she simply opened her door and walked down the hallway to campus movies, classes, and special events. If I still lived in a house, she says, it would have been too much trouble to get into the car and go someplace.

Enjoying life at Ann s Choice

The Mills have lived in five states and in Paris, France. But moving to Ann s Choice meant coming home. They re both Pennsylvania born and bred, and as a junior Navy officer, Don was stationed at Johnsville Naval Development Center, where Ann s Choice stands today. We never even attended a sales luncheon, says Nancy. We dropped by, walked around, and decided then and there that Ann s Choice was what we wanted. Four months later, they moved in. When she s not immersed in her music, Nancy enjoys the campus genealogy group, the French club, and bridge games. She also rambles eastern Pennsylvania researching her family tree.