“It’s not just what you bring to the music, but what the music gives to you.”

Music is powerful. The instrumentals, vocals, and rhythm come together to make a beautiful sound that speaks to people in a way nothing else can.

The famous Stevie Wonder describes music as:

“A world within itself, it is a language we all understand.”

For Arley Lake, music is a way of giving back – a gift, a calling. At 98 years old, Arley has been playing the piano for 91 years and the organ for 82.

“Learning music is definitely worth it,” Arley said. “It’s not just what you bring to the music, but what the music gives to you. It makes you a better person.”

Arley began her musical career at age 7 when she had her first piano lesson. Her parents valued music and paid for Arley and her siblings to take lessons for a year right before the Great Depression hit.

“Even after they couldn’t afford to give us lessons, they encouraged me to practice the piano every day,” Arley said.

She kept practicing, and at 16, she was asked to be the pianist for her church in East Detroit. Naturally, when her church decided to invest in an organ, they wanted Arley to play it. So, they paid for her to take private lessons. Seventy-two years later, she is still playing.

Arley played the organ for the Sunday Hymn Sing at the Chelsea Retirement Community (CRC) Chapel for almost 15 years. Now, she plays the piano every Sunday morning at the Towsley Village Chapel.

“I play not just because I like doing it; I am called to do it,” Arley said.

Giving back is very important to Arley. She gives back to the community by leading worship and passing on a love of music to her three kids. Among the four of them, they played the trumpet, clarinet, organ, and piano. They would perform at churches in Detroit and her husband’s church near Charlevoix, Mich. Arley called the family her “little orchestra.”

Arley and her husband moved to CRC in 1991. Sadly, in 2010 and 2011, Arley’s two daughters and her husband of 67 years passed away.

“I was alone and on my own,” Arley said. “Without my faith, I would have been completely depressed; I wouldn’t have made it through.”

For Arley, faith is her rock, her comfort, her everything. This is why she values hymns so much—it combines her love of God and community with her love of music.

“The words of a hymn mean so much to me. They are thought-provoking and can be a source of comfort,” Arley said. “I like to think about how the words must mean the same or more to everyone singing in the congregation.”

Today, her congregation is residents of CRC – a place she has called home for 25 years. From residents to staff, everyone here is Arley’s family.

“I was at a dinner a few years ago, sitting by myself, when John Thorhauer (CEO) brought his friends and sat down next to me,” Arley said. “We had the most pleasant evening getting to know each other and we still see each other on campus and catch up.”

Arley still leads worship at the Towsley Village on Sunday mornings and can be seen carrying her hymnal nearly everywhere. Though she has many reasons why CRC is home, one of her favorite is the diversity of faith.

“There are so many types of faiths, not just Methodist,” Arley said. “It’s more than Protestant or Catholic, and we don’t care. We don’t talk about denomination. Here, we focus on loving and living well together. It’s home to all of us.”