Darren Lambert '02
The sound check is done, the set-list is selected. He knows the routine; it’s the third show this week. The room is packed with eager faces. “What a great group we have tonight,” he says to his wife who offers a smile of agreement.
It’s time for another show to begin. His hands strike the keyboard, and he starts to sing. The crowd goes wild. They clap, they sing along, they enjoy every moment. It’s a night they won’t soon forget.
That’s the goal of alumnus Darren Lambert ’02: to use his gift of music to make a lasting impact. While the goal may seem common, it’s the way it’s accomplished that’s unique. Like other musicians, Lambert and his wife, Kristen, spend their lives on tour, but instead of performing in famous concert halls, they play to an audience of elderly folks in nursing homes across the country.
Lambert grew up in New Jersey as the son of a Grove City College alumnus. He discovered music at a young age when he took piano lessons as a child and went on to pursue his passion even as a physics and computer science major in college. He performed on campus as a Clown for Christ, a hand bell ringer at Tower Presbyterian Church, an accompanist for music majors and a GCC Radio DJ with his own show, “Saturday Night Fever with Disco D.”
After graduation, Lambert struggled to find a job in his field. To stay busy, he volunteered to help create a praise team at a local church. He also dabbled in music technology by helping to rewrite and record songs. Through these experiences, he discovered the cathartic properties of music during a stressful economic time.
Along the way, Lambert took a temporary position as a maintenance worker at a local nursing home. It wasn’t long before he contacted the activity director and offered to sing and play for the residents when needed.
On December 27, 2002, the activity director came to Lambert in a panic. The New Year’s Eve performer had cancelled last minute, and she was desperate for holiday entertainment for the residents. He threw a set list together and played two shows. “The evening wasn’t without hiccups,” Lambert explained. “But it was a blast, and the residents really enjoyed it.”
This performance opened the door for Lambert to play a show at the nursing home once a month instead of sparingly as before. It also inspired him to pursue music as a full-time career; by mid-2003 he was directing music at local church, performing in a band, and offering music lessons in voice, drums, and guitar.
When his band broke up in 2006, Lambert decided he wanted to find a way to keep performing full time. He recalled his positive nursing home experiences and chose to take the unique path of serving that community on a regular basis. He’s been at it ever since.
Over the years, Lambert realized his desire for a business partner who was passionate about serving through music. When he met and married his wife, Kristen, in 2011, he knew he’d found the right match. Kristen not only brought organizational planning skills to the table, but she also offered her voice as a compliment to his. A modern day “Sonny and Cher,” the two work together in every aspect of the business from behind the computer to in front of a live audience.
With their love of travel, the couple joined the Escapees RV Club to investigate the lifestyle. It seemed to be a perfect fit for two people on the road during most of the year. The Lamberts bought an RV in February 2013 and set out on tour from Kentucky to Maine and back. Over the course of their travels, they’ve visited over 200 nursing homes.
“Who wouldn’t love what we do,” Lambert explained. “We get to travel where we want to go. We can be together all of the time. We make enough money to live, and we play music we love for people who are so appreciative of what we do.”
The show truly is a sight to see. The hits range from Blueberry Hill to The Pennsylvania Polka to Great Balls of Fire. The couple takes requests, sings duets, and even asks trivia questions. “See if you can guess what film this song is from,” says Lambert before one number. “Oh I can’t even remember what happened today,” shouts back an elderly woman. It’s this back-and-forth banter that makes what the Lamberts do so special. Warm grins spread across the well-worn faces in the audience, and it’s obvious that lives are being touched.
Lambert sums up his life’s work with a short story from his childhood. His first encounter with an elderly audience can be traced back to sixth grade when he and a small group of singers visited a local nursing home. When the group was finished performing, one older gentleman shouted out, “That was better than going to a Broadway show!” Lambert recalls feeling shocked by that statement. How could his little school group possibly have sung better than professionals? It wasn’t until much later that he realized what the old man meant. “It wasn’t so much that we were better, it was that we were there,” Lambert concluded. “We came to the nursing home when Broadway professionals didn’t. Even with our limited talent, we brightened someone’s day. And now – we get to do that all the time. What could be better than that?”
Find out more about the Lamberts on their website.