Bernice Pomeroy and Sonya Johnson have been making music together in Patagonia since 2001. Photo by Lynn Davison

If you had glanced inside the Patagonia United Methodist Community Church on the night of March 2, you would have seen an overflow crowd on their feet clapping wildly and shouting “Encore!” as two old women bowed and beamed at the front of the room. Bernice Pomeroy, aged 95, and Sonia Johnson, 82—”The Vintage Duo”—had just finished their hour-long program of organ/piano duets—from Bach to Bacharach—with elan and professionalism.

It’s been a long journey for these two women. In 1934, when she was only eleven years old, Pomeroy first played the piano in church for a tiny congregation in Solomonville, Arizona. Forty busy years later in 1984, when she was 51 years old, she became the organist for the Patagonia Methodist church and has occupied the organ bench there ever since. During those 34 years, she also did lots of accompanying—for the Montessori School Chorus and the Santa Cruz Singers, for instance—and taught piano lessons.

“I estimate that I introduced nearly 400 piano students to this marvelous instrument,” she said. “Music is the foundation of my life. All else has been transformed by it.”

Johnson began taking piano lessons when she was five years old, learning to read music before she could read words. She wrote in the concert’s program: “Despite this propitious beginning, I never became a serious musician; I was always too passionately involved elsewhere. Still, over the years I played desultorily for myself and friends, and here and there, for this and that. Then in 2001, when I was 65, the Patagonia United Methodist Community Church hired me to play with Bernice and, except for a six-year hiatus, I’ve been playing with Bernice ever since. At long last, I had begun to get serious—too late to become a really fine musician, but just in time to set out on an unexpectedly satisfying late-life adventure.”

Both these women believe that the audience plays a crucial role in the success of any musical event. Members of an audience come to listen to music because they know it has the capacity, at least for its duration, to utterly transform their internal climate. They come because, like all of us, they long to be swept out of dull ‘daily-ness’ into some emotionally expansive place of delight and amazement. When they begin to experience this during a performance, their energy and excitement flood the room, a surge of enthusiasm that, in turn, lifts the performers to an even higher level of confidence, verve and ability.

Because of this, both Pomeroy and Johnson give grateful credit to the congregation of PUMCC for keeping them happily at their instruments.

“The importance to our music of their warm, appreciative response really can’t be overestimated,” Johnson says. “And that Friday night when The Vintage Duo performed, we had such a marvelously energizing audience that we were able to play as well as we’ve ever played—actually, better!”