By Erika Webb
Standing in her daughter's old bedroom-turned-recording studio, Nancy Kophamel Brace holds her five-month old granddaughter, Aaliyah Rose. Shania, as in Twain, one of her two breeder service dogs, stays close by her side. Ms. Brace moves to the music coming from the sound system -- her music.
Her simultaneous swaying, toe tapping and baby jiggling are fluid, rhythmic. The harmonious strains from the stereo are the blended vocals of Ms. Brace and her brother, John Kophamel. They've been singing together, off and on, for decades.
Their mutual tendency to get sidetracked, musically and in general, inspired the name of their band -- Side Trax.
When they were young, they hit the road playing all over the U.S., Canada and in the Bahamas -- in "supper clubs," hotels, cruise ships -- "anyplace they had electricity," Ms. Brace said. There wasn't really a plan. Plans were for later on. There was just the music, the audiences and the members of the band.
When later on came, there were regular jobs, kids to raise, spousal commitments, household chores and, eventually, elderly parents to care for. The music paused, but refused to die.
Ms. Brace said about three years ago she felt the need to "get out and do something musical."
Victoria Place and Sixma Senior assisted living facilities in Deltona became the beneficiaries of that longing.
On the second Sunday of each month, Side Trax can be found entertaining residents at the two senior facilities.
"My mother lived at Sixma for a short time and I got to know the owner," Ms. Brace said.
Since she and Mr. Kophamel have worked in elderly care centers in the past, they are comfortable in the environment and understand the need residents have for pleasant interludes.
But make no mistake. "In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree" is not part of the play list.
Ms. Brace said she feels performing "hits" from early last century would be almost insulting and patronizing to their audience.
"They like to hear songs that are cool because then they feel cool," Ms. Brace said.
Songs by the Eagles, Patsy Cline, Sting, Bob Seger, Conway Twitty, The BeeGees, Nora Jones and The Beatles are all in Side Trax's repertoire. Peppy songs like Brooks & Dunn's "Boot Scootin' Boogie."
And there's always humor.
"One of their favorite songs is, 'I've Got a Frog in My Throat (Over You),' and another one is 'Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road,'" Ms. Brace said. "We feel free to do anything ... The Righteous Brothers, The Mammas and the Pappas ... anything that doesn't have disgusting topics. They love (the) love-songs, and so do we."
She said the duo likes to incorporate themes. January might be the month for train songs; February, love songs; March, Celtic tunes.
Show tunes and gospel music meander in, too.
Sixma Senior aide Kim Ulm said Side Trax does "a really excellent job" entertaining clients.
"They play 'Achy Breaky Heart' and get a 93-year-old woman ... she doesn't dance, but she sings the words to it," Ms. Ulm said.
Ms. Brace, who has taught herself how to play five instruments, including piano, guitar, synthesizer keyboard, fiddle and harp, said she once was hired to play for a party at John Knox Village in Orange City.
"I had one hand on the piano and a harp in the other hand," she said. "This older man said, 'In all my life I've never seen such a thing as that.'"
Another time, when she and Mr. Kophamel were bantering with ALF residents, the subject of celebrities came up.
"We mentioned John Wayne and how my son-in-law didn't know who he was," Ms. Brace said. "This little 90 year-old-lady said, 'John Wayne, he's hot!'"
Walking past her brother's room when Ms. Brace was 17 and Mr. Kophamel was 12, she heard him singing. She stopped in her tracks.
"I remember saying, 'John, you can really sing!'" she said.
He sure can.
His voice, a rich bass, lends itself surprisingly well to just about any melody.
Ms. Brace's voice ranges, in laymen's terms, from smoky-jazz club blues to tree-top songbird in two verses.
Together they create harmony that reaches beyond sound.
Mr. Kophamel said no matter what else he was doing day-job wise, he's always played in a band somewhere.
For 12 years, he was in the house band at Emmy's Time-Out Tavern in DeLand.
He was part of the praise team at the Methodist church in DeBary where he lives.
"I always wanted to be the fifth Beatle," Mr. Kophamel said, "But who didn't?"
Like his sister, Mr. Kophamel is calm and collected, with a twist.
His wry sense of humor and knack for impressions make him a well-rounded entertainer.
Neither of them is especially disappointed they haven't achieved fame and fortune. Their gratification needs go deeper than that.
"It's a funny kind of a thing," Mr. Kophamel said. "I always felt like, as a musician, playing nursing homes would be the end of the road, but in many ways it's a beginning because they're such an appreciative audience."
While working as a nurse's aide and later visiting their own mother Mr. Kophamel was dismayed to find that many nursing home and assisted living residents don't get visitors. That sad reality inspired him.
"People spend a lot of time just sitting and not doing a lot," he said. "This (music) gives them a diversion from their day. It's rewarding in that way. And we have fun."
Mr. Kophamel said he thinks everybody can sing.
"Look at Louis Armstrong," he said, scrunching his face while launching into a near-perfect gravel-throated imitation of the famous singer doing "What a Wonderful World."
"Who would buy that? People did," he said.
Though their parents didn't sing professionally, they both were good singers. Their grandparents on both sides were musically inclined. Their maternal grandmother played piano for silent movies.
Ms. Brace said she thinks the chemistry between her and her brother is "awesome."
"Even when we were little we got along," she said. "I taught him to tie his shoes. We'd play Timmy and Lassie. He had blond hair so he'd be Timmy and I'd be Lassie and drink water out of a bowl set on the floor," she said laughing.
"You drank out of a bowl?" Mr. Kophamel said.
Equally passionate about medicine and music, Ms. Brace studied occupational therapy in college and worked as a certified ophthalmic technician for many years. The balanced left and right sides of her brain may have caused her some confusion over what she wanted to do in life, but served her well when it came to recording the music she and her brother perform.
She records and mixes tracks on a small device in her home, producing studio-quality CDs.
Those converging passions landed her on a path of service to others, if not to solid gold.
"On the road it was the music, relationships between the band (members), and you didn't have to deal with life," she said. "There was no emotional growth. Then it's time to come back and figure out what you're gonna do."
"I'm fulfilled," she added.