Originally Published: August 4, 2008 10:36 p.m.
PRESCOTT - John Bresnen rarely shies away from singing in front of a crowd.
From his days as a youth performing solos in plays and the church choir, to his young adulthood carrying tunes in Chicago-area restaurants, the 73-year-old Prescott resident found his niche.
The sense of satisfaction and affection he felt from the crowds who listened, no matter the age of the spectators, has kept the spark alive in his vocal chords through the years.
Although he now no longer employs his talents in boisterous, enclosed public places, Bresnen enjoys singing for the elderly at care homes and small outdoor gatherings here.
This past Tuesday, the baritone sang nine uplifting tunes a cappella style in the living room area at The Center Adult Day Services, 826 Sunset Ave., for a 30-member group of mildly disabled seniors.
As spectators sat in a circle in their chairs, he stood in the middle, constantly moving around and interacting with his audience.
Some clearly knew the songs, as their faces lit up with joy, keeping time while lip-syncing the words.
With or without instrumental accompaniment, Bresnen can still belt out a song with the proper tone, volume and
lyrics - all from memory.
He often distributes comment sheets to the people for whom he sings to rate how well they liked his performances, and the responses have been overwhelmingly positive.
Bresnen knows 300 songs, but he typically chooses from a list of about 70 favorites, including popular hits "California Here I Come," "Carolina in the Morning," and "Chattanooga Shoe Shine Boy."
He also throws in lesser known classics that he enjoys, like "Forty Shades of Green," "Mermaid," and "The Youth of the Heart."
Bresnen said he selected his "Potpourri of Songs," as he dubs it, by simply handpicking tunes he has cherished over the course of his life.
"It is very satisfying to sing with an audience," said Bresnen, who keeps a book of comments he's received from audiences through the years. "I try to do lively
songs that people can relate to."
When Bresnen finished on Tuesday, those in the adult day care program clapped and thanked him for a job well done.
"I liked everything about it," said Mary Wakelin. "I just enjoy music."
Gaston Duhamel, 63, who has lived in Prescott 20 years, said he loved how Bresnen made everyone feel relaxed and hopes he returns again soon.
"For him to be able to come in here without any microphone or accompaniment, I appreciated his ability to sing," said Duhamel, who recognized about half of Bresnen's songs. "He kept all of us going. It's enjoyable, and it brought back memories."
Frank Vassallo, 93, agreed with Duhamel.
"He sang on pitch without accompaniment, and it was very entertaining," he said. "It gave us marvelous memories for all the songs that he sang."
Music has also touched Bresnen's personal life. Thirty-four years ago, Bresnen was singing in a Chicago eatery when he met his future wife, Marian, and they have been together ever since.
Several years after the couple moved from Illinois to Prescott in the early 1990s, Bresnen continued to employ his talents at local
functions and select engagements.
For instance, he has performed with accompaniment at Prescott's Acker Night and a cappella at the Folk Festival at Sharlot Hall Museum.
He has also participated in gigs at Yavapai College's Performance Hall.
"It's wonderful," Marian said of her husband's singing. "No matter where we go, people want him to sing, so it's great."
Marian often attends these functions with her husband, sitting out in the audience in support of what he does to uplift people's spirits.
"I will keep doing this as long as I can," Bresnen said.
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