Ruminations on the crazy people we are, by a retired teacher/musician. Can't get the "requests" out of my system after years of barroom/lounge/restaurant/party gigs mining 100 years worth of the musical mother-lode.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The volume thing

Ruminating on an epiphany:

I play softer; they sing louder. Or that's what I thought was happening. Was it really more like "I play softer, I get to hear them better?

Here's what happened. For four years now, every Wednesday I head for a nursing home where I play oldies for the "oldies." Actually, these are real, real oldies,(the tunes,) I'm playing for some real, real "oldies," the people. The folks are, I guess, all over 80, an age I will reach myself in two years. So, music to people, we're a real good match. I have tried to understand and appreciate for WHOM I am actually playing. Though some are barely awake in their wheelchairs, most are enjoying the music actively, but their range of thought is limited. It has been said the folks with Alsheimers respond really well to hearing the songs that have been familiar to them throughout their lives. The memory seems to work more actively in the presence of a familiar tune. Recently, then, I began to experiment with some "fill-in" type activities, where I would stop singing at a point where familiar words were repeated, and listen for them to fill in the missing lyrics. It has worked very well.

In the course of this effort, I tried playing more simply, single notes sometimes with one hand, and found that they really sounded great, and I would try comments like, "Well, we can skip the extra rehearsal this week," or something else terribly clever. (A side discovery: jokes and glib remarks don't process very well with these people; their thinking is too slow and limited. The people laughing were the attendants and visiting younger relatives.

Today, however, a new discovery. The nursing home piano is stiff in its action, and never really well tuned. This causes me to attack the keys more firmly, all of which is hard work. So today, I was doing a good deal of soft, simple playing, and found I could really hear the folks a lot better. But wait! They were singing well all along, and I just could't hear them, for all the banging I was doing on the piano. As Jack Benny used to say, "Well!"

So not only was I not hearing this great sound,(and let me tell you, the sound of elders singing in their own gentle way is something special to the ears,) but I found I didn't have to work as hard as I had been working all these four years. Note: it took me four years to figure this out. Given enough time, who knows what else I may learn, if I open myself up to it.

Very personally, I have to be very thankful not only for the opportunity to play for the folks, but for the lesson I learned today. This old dog did, in fact, learn a new trick.

End of ruminations:

Keep the faith, whatever yours is, and fight the good fight.

Darfur is right next door.



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