MUSIC surrounds Christmas.
Children are singing “Silent Night.’’ Bing Crosby is crooning “White Christmas.’’ There is the massive and powerful “Messiah.’’
Rocco Abbondanza offers his own simple gift.
You can hear him coming wherever he goes in South Pasadena by listening for the sound of song.
I first heard him singing near the library about a year ago.
Then last week, I was going to do another story when he walked past — singing “Ave Maria.”
His body is bent over as the result of a fall on the sidewalk. Sometimes, he is so bent over he can’t straighten up to talk.
But at age 76, Rocco can still sing, and he still regularly walks six miles along the sidewalks of South Pasadena.
“When I sing, I can make people happy,’’ Rocco said. “And it makes my day to make people happy.
“I started singing when I moved here (to Prospect Manor Assisted Living on Prospect) eight years ago. I didn’t know if people would like (it). I like people to be happy. I enjoy them and they seem to enjoy me.’’
Readers may know Rocco from a lovely 2018 profile that Sally Kilby wrote for the Review. A copy of that story is framed and hangs on the wall in his apartment.
His bed is strewn with notebooks full of songs, poems and thoughts that he has collected. Books with songs — one containing Latin melodies — were scattered across his bedspread. His voice, somewhere between a tenor and a baritone in its prime, is a little more gravelly than it was when I first heard him, and his hands shake from Parkinson’s.
His love of singing remains indomitable.
“Sometimes I sing just by myself. Sometimes people wait to see me coming,’’ he said.
Rocco is proud that he can sing in four languages — his native Italian, plus Latin, Spanish and English. He offers more than 60 songs to the community and right now, and Christmas carols are on his play list.
Carols are involved in his favorite Christmas memory.
“One day I was walking down the street, and I saw children caroling and I sang ‘Silent Night’ for them. I love to sing for kids.’’
Rocco actually loves to sing for anyone, and he admits that he never had the urge to let go until he moved to South Pasadena and began his walks around the city. He told me that he just doesn’t feel right about a day unless he is out walking and singing.
The song might be “O Solo Mio,’’ “Besame Mucho’’ or Elvis’ “It’s Now or Never.’’
“Sometimes I sing just by myself,’’ he said. “Sometimes people wait to see me coming. Some people stop and congratulate me on my singing. They come out in the street and they ask me to sing ‘Ave Maria.’ ’’
Of all the songs he sings, he said, “Ave Maria’’ is his favorite.
How appropriate for the season.
Three ladies come over occasionally on Wednesdays and do the rosary, Rocco said, and he sings three “Ave Marias’’ for them. He also sings when the priest comes on Thursdays to say mass at Prospect Manor.
“One time a woman came by and wanted me to sing it, and I was feeling badly so she said she would come back,’’ he recalled.
Rocco loved singing in the church when he was a boy growing up in Italy and he wanted to study music. His father put a stop to that — “a cruel man,’’ he recalls — and told him that he had to help with the farm.
He came to Los Angeles in 1966 after his beloved sister had died, and he lived with his brother. Rocco learned English, but had to take various jobs after being unable to get an electrician’s license.
His wife died of cancer at age 51.
He said that people sometimes come out to listen to his songs. “They come out and say, ‘Here’s Rocco,’ ’’ he told me.
“I see a crowd and I start singing. Without anyone around, I start singing. I don’t care what people say.
“This is my life.’’
Rocco’s offerings will last long after Christmas is past. He’s got the gift of song and he’s willing to give — whether or not anyone listens.
I hope you and your family enjoy the simple pleasures of this season, and good health to all in 2020.
My email is ALippman@gavilanmedia.com. Please write if you have any story ideas about people, places or things of interest to South Pasadena residents.