Oregon Pianist Brings Smiles to Lonely Retirement Home Citizens with Big Band Tunes: 'Music Is the Medicine of Life'

"The goal is to bring connectivity through songs that they understand," David Cooley tells PEOPLE

Photo: Courtesy Miri Stebivka

David Cooley has changed the lives of thousands of senior citizens with his music.

The self-taught pianist travels around the Pacific Northwest area playing uplifting gigs at retirement homes – his goal is to lift the spirits of elders (many of whom rarely get visitors) by playing songs “that take them back to their youth.”

“When I see these elders sitting in the audience bobbing along and others have their eyes closed with a smile on their faces, it’s charming,” Cooley tells PEOPLE. “My goal is to bring people to a place of happiness.”

After performing his set – including Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Dean Martin covers – Cooley says he sits down with his audience and listens to them talk about stories from their past.

“The goal is to bring connectivity through songs that they understand, that they recognize, to bring up sweetness in their beings,” he says. “People tell me they were having a bad day and now it’s different.”

This summer, Cooley played his 1,000th senior show at Pacifica Senior Living in Portland, Oregon.

Bob Horton, a Pacifica resident, says Cooley’s big band and pop music performances change the entire mood of the home.

“I did very little singing before, but David brought back the songs I remember and I like to sing along,” Horton, 80, tells PEOPLE. “It lifts my spirit – makes me feel good.”

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Monika Trujillo, administrator at Pacifica, also recognizes the tremendous influence Cooley’s performances have on her residents.

“Nothing compares to watching these seniors sing along reminiscing about their youth, friends and loved ones,” Trujillo tells PEOPLE. “Not all of those residing in retirement communities have regular visitors, so we are very grateful David takes the time to share his music with us.”

Cooley will continue to play for senior citizens – he has over 200 shows booked through the end of the year.

“The vibrations of my voice, my piano, it moves people like prescription drugs,” explains Cooley. “It changes the vibrations in the body to make you healthier!”

He adds, “Music is the medicine of life.”

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