From a folding chair on stage right, 85-year-old Betty Factor played the piano for the first time in years.

But the keys she hit didn't make a sound because the piano she played wasn't there.

Such a small detail didn't stop Betty's fingers from moving over each key as though there was song beneath them, and in that moment, she shared a uniquely human trait with her substantially younger audience - imagination.

At this time of year, schoolchildren often travel to nursing homes to perform holiday tunes.

But, in a new twist on the tradition, the residents of Glendale Uptown Nursing Home's choir performed for the children of Rhawnhurst Elementary School in the Northeast yesterday morning.

The 20 choir members, all but five of whom were wheelchair-bound, practiced an hour a day for months on their medley of Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa songs, said Randie Duretz, director of recreation for Glendale.

"The choir provides the breaks of a lonely day," she said. "And for the kids, we're showing them that someone in a wheelchair can smile, sit, talk and sing."

The program started off with old-time secular favorites like "School Daze" and "Let Me Call You Sweetheart," a tune that invoked giggles from the kids.

But the residents didn't seem to mind. From the man in the Phillies skullcap who opted not to sing, but just smiled instead, to the man with the magnifying glass who was intent on staying true to the lyrics, there was a beauty in the disparity of the choir.

There was no perfect harmony and no fancy robes, but there was a choice made by each member to experience the concert in a way that suited him or her.

Some residents seemed to channel nostalgia and others, professionalism. Some, at moments, seemed overcome with sadness; others were overcome with joy.

And then there was stage-right Betty.

For the first part of the concert, she was content to play her imaginary piano, tap her feet and let the music exit her body through a smile and a seated hip-wiggle.

But when the kids began to participate in the concert by clapping along to "Jingle Bells," it became too much for Factor, who burst into dance and boogied her way to center stage.

"I love the thought of music and I love to do it," she later said.

As the concert closed with a rendition of "Auld Lang Syne," Factor once again rose to her feet. Then, in a scene out of an old-time movie, Duretz took Factor by the hand and danced an informal waltz with her, like she was once again a young woman who had a piano to play and didn't live in a nursing home.

The kids laughed, uncomfortable with seeing one woman dance with another. But after many of the children had emptied out of the auditorium, two little girls emulated the moment.

The kids' reactions to the choir ranged from "amazing" to "funny" to "I didn't know old people could sing," but it was the experience of the residents that captured the spirit of the holiday season.

"The fact that we're able to sing and get the music out of us is very uplifting," said 83-year-old Gloria Peterson. "It keeps us feeling like we're not just put away, that we're all part of something bigger." *