Seated at the black piano in a gathering space in The Shores, 24-year-old Brian Connolly fixes his sheet music and begins playing his first song.
In a half-circle around him are a dozen smiling Peconic Landing residents. When he concludes a number, they all clap softly. He stands, shuffling through his music to pick a new tune. He then sits and lets his fingers dance over the keys, repeating the sequence multiple times during his hour-long visit.
Mr. Connolly, of Southold, has visited Peconic Landing every Thursday for the past six years, performing some of his favorite songs for groups of interested residents.
At a luncheon a few weeks ago, he was recognized for his continued dedication as Peconic Landing’s 2017 Volunteer of the Year — the first non-member to receive the distinction.
“I heard my name and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh,’ ” Mr. Connolly said. “I couldn’t believe my eyes … I was really shocked. I never expected it. I was so surprised and so honored.”
Mr. Connolly, who has autism, began playing the piano in seventh grade. He started by picking up a keyboard at home and surprising his family with a rendition of “The Wedding March.”
“We had no idea where he heard it from or how he knew it,” said his mother, Susan. “My grandmother said to me, ‘You have to get him piano lessons.’ We had no idea he had music in him.”
From there, Mr. Connolly began taking lessons and practicing almost daily. He also volunteers at his church, playing the bells in the choir, Ms. Connolly said.
He handpicks the songs he plays each week at Peconic Landing — his favorite is Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are” — and also takes residents’ requests from time to time.
“I think it’s wonderful,” resident Marjorie Hoffman said of Mr. Connolly’s accomplishment, adding that she listens to him play each time he visits. “He deserves it. He comes every week. He’s good. He plays songs we know and songs we don’t know.”
The award may have come as a surprise to Mr. Connolly, but his mother had been notified before the luncheon. She decided to keep it to herself, allowing her son to learn of the honor during the event.
“We are so proud of him,” she said. “[I enjoy] the fact that he enjoys helping people. He feels very fulfilled and he hopes that he makes people happy when he’s playing. So I enjoy the fact that he feels he’s doing something good.”
His name was added to a plaque listing all those who have received the award since its inception in 2010.
Gregory Garrett, executive vice president and administrator at Peconic Landing, said Mr. Connolly’s continued dedication over the past six years, and the effort he puts in practicing at home, made him the perfect recipient.
“He gives of himself, not only coming here on a regular basis and not missing a beat, but he practices and brings different songs to us,” Mr. Garrett said. “Also, bringing a young person in general is always wonderful for our members. They truly enjoy him. He was without a doubt an easy choice for us.”
Mr. Connolly said his favorite part of volunteering at the retirement community is putting smiles on people’s faces.
“I think music helps people feel really happy,” he said. “And the music I play, I’m really hoping they get happy as much as me. And I think it’s good to do something to help people out.”