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It's Fun to Play the Piano ... Please Pass It On!
I'm cross-posting this in Pianist Corner and the Adult Beginner's Forum. Please forgive the cross-posting.
One morning a few weeks ago, I stumbled upon this clip while I was looking for something else on YouTube. It is quite moving:
That happened to be the same day I was scheduled to tune a piano and play two programs at one of the Alzheimer's care centers. The place has two kinds of living arrangements--Assisted Living, and, Sheltered Care. I was tuning the piano in the Assisted Living side (an early vintage Cable grand in need of a lot of TLC), and the activity director came over to say "hi." I told her about the video clip and she said, "Oh, yeah! They just started doing that in the Sheltered Care side." Sure enough, when I went to the sheltered care side to play, I saw one guy wheeling his chair down the hall, headphones on, and singing like a lark!
I've been to the Assisted Living side to play about five times, now, and the Sheltered Care side three times. The difference in music preferences between the two sides is interesting. Assisted Living seems to likes the sedate, highbrow stuff presented concert style with a few peppy tunes thrown in for good measure. The Sheltered Care side can be a little chaotic and noisy (it's an Everett studio console over there, also in need of TLC), and a lot of the residents in Sheltered Care are in similar condition as Henry, but they really respond to the peppy stuff, presented party style. My first time there, when I started playing some Fox Trots and Charlestons, some of them got up to dance with their care-givers, or "arm dance and toe tap" in their chairs.
Yesterday, I was scheduled to play at the sheltered care side, again. One of the residents, Ruth, knows just about every pop song from the 30s, and 40s that I pull out of my satchel to play. She doesn't read music, but she doodles and noodles quite well at the piano. The last time I was there, she sat next to the piano, kind of facing me in her chair, and happily hummed and sang along to all the tunes. Yesterday, there was no chair by the piano, and when Ruth came into the activity room, she stood next to the piano where the chair was, and sang. I said, "Do you want a chair?" "Oh, maybe in a minute," she said. But I could tell she was kind of tired. So, I got up, and scooted the piano bench over to make room for her and said, "Have a seat!" So she sat with me at the piano, and we had a blast. She sang along, reading the lyrics from the page as best she could find them, and even turned pages for me.
Sometime during that hour, a flock of nurses descended and took residents' blood pressure and pulse and temperature. A nurse took Ruth's readings while Ruth was on the bench, and said, "Wow!" Ruth said, "Is it alright?" The nurse said, "More than alright! You're blood pressure is great when you're singing and listening to music!" In between songs, Ruth told me a lot of stories about her dad and their piano at home, and how he taught her to play. Actually, it was pretty much the same story every time between songs, but it was embellished with a different detail each time, too. (Common when talking to people with Alzheimer's... It's a repeat for you, but for them, it's a genuinely new thing to say or ask. I just smile and reply like it's the first time I've heard it... And, if I hear a new detail, I ask about it to keep the conversation going and see where it leads.)
I'm sharing this story by way of encouragement. I know many of you play at facilities like this from time to time, and I just want to suggest that your music and presence might be more profound than you may see from the surface of things.
Anyway, to quote from the video clip, above, music is "the quickening art." The mp3 player idea is phenomenal! And I submit that the shared listening experience with live music is different in a number of ways and no less important. If you've never played at a care center, guess what? They are sprouting like weeds, popping up everywhere, and I further submit to you that there is a niche and a need for people who can tickle the ivories and float some live music into the air. There is usually at least one dumpy, unserviced piano in the house (notice the piano in the background in the video clip? Bet'cha it's not in tune! ). If you get lucky, there's a nice one. The pianos I get to play range from an awful-sounding Wurlitzer console to a gorgeous Steinway L.
I've seen that video, and it's wonderful. I get singers, dancers, and toe-tappers, too. Fortunately for me I play songs from the same era you do, which is just right for the current crop of seniors. (I have a Beatles book for when my cohort starts being in assisted living, but frankly it doesn't speak to me the way the earlier music does. Don't know what I'm going to do then.)
One woman told me she always went to sleep to her mother playing Mozart. Then she told me of her work in missions in war-torn countries helping children. Another woman always insists she knows me - I used to live down the street or something. Perhaps I have a doppleganger. Once, when I had finished You're a Grand Old Flag and everyone had been singing they sang another chorus just for the fun of it.
Yeah, I think the music is super important. And, since I'm not perfect, it's a good thing they like the songs anyway!
It's very heart-warming to read your story (just like the one about the friend's composer father). I think what you do is a great thing, and one of the most overlooked things we can do for anyone: improving others' quality of life. Everything from offering Ruth a place on the bench to kindly hearing her stories makes me happy to see.
I'd love to play like you do. I'm not good enough yet. Many years ago, however, a couple of friends and I decided to put on a performance of Shakespeare's "Comedy of Errors" at a local nursing home. The crowd met our performance with sincere, if sometimes confused, enthusiasm ("what did they say?" one woman kept yelling). At the very end, a quiet man who had been sitting in the front said, "That was the best opera I've ever heard" . Regardless, flubs and starts and stops and confusion and all, it was a blast.
Music makes life grander.
Beethoven - Op.49 No.1 (sonata 19) Czerny - Op.299 Nos. 5,7 (School of Velocity) Liszt - S.172 No.2 (Consolation No.2)
Dream piece: Rachmaninoff - Sonata 2, movement 2 in E minor
Joined: Oct 2012
CinnamonBear thank you for introducing this youtube video. I have been to an Alzheimer Assisted living facility and always saw a difference in the residents when there was music around them. My then future Mother in Law was a resident. It is very difficult. Alzheimers. When I retire and have all the time I want available to me, one of the things I want to do is volunteer and play for an Assisted Living facility on a weekly basis.
Andy, thanks for the link and your wonderful stories. Being able to play for others like that is something I hope to do one day.
If I manage to build a small "repertoire" of Christmas tunes this year, as I hope to, maybe I'll be able to try something this coming holiday season. I love the old standards myself so that's another area of music where I want to get good enough to play some pieces for others.
Thanks for the inspiration.
Deborah Charles Walter 1500 Happiness is a shiny red piano.
Sorry to bump this thread, but a story happened to me the other day that I just had to share...
I was playing for the people on the "sheltered care" side--those with profound Alzheimer's. There is one guy there named Doug--a tall corporate type--the one who, when I was tuning the piano once, stood by the piano with his hands in his pockets carefully examining all of my tools and my actions and eventually said, "I'd help you, but I got my hands in my pockets." That guy. I know he likes "What A Difference A Day Made," because almost every time I've played it, he's come out of the woodwork to hum along. Well, when I played it Friday, no reaction from him. None. So, I kind of wondered, but shrugged it off and let it go and went on to other things. Eventually, I landed on "Fur Elise." Now, this is a piece that many of my senior listeners love to hear--who knows why? It think it's because they know it, and some of them learned it at piano lessons, and when it's played right, it's kind of pretty and soothing. I fell in love with it when I heard Valentina Lisitsa's "encore" performance on YouTube, and ever since then, I strive to play it with that degree of sensitivity. So, I played it as well as I could, and when I was finished, from the couch directly behind me, I heard, "Hmmm. That's getting better." I turned around, and it was Doug, chin in his chest, eyes closed, hands in his lap. He continued, "Yep. Not bad. It takes a while to get good, though, I know... That one's getting better." LOL!
Now friends, *that* is true encouragement! I'm still smiling about it, and the memory of it will endure whenever I am at the keys.
That was just as good as the day I was playing at another place, and Bob wheeled up to the piano and said, "You know all of those mistakes you're making?" I said, "Yessss..." He said, "We don't hear 'em! Our brain fills it in. You just keep playin'! We love it!!!" Wow, did *that* ever free me up forever! Ha-ha!
Anyway, I just had to share that one. Hope you are all well and "getting good."
Seems that these people you play for have an acute perception of something which makes up for that which they've lost. . .and humour is still there. Unbelievable! Go to it lass. You're doing a great job..