Sunday, February 24, 2008

Where Have All the Pianists Gone?

I know a church that’s trying to find a way to record hymn accompaniments before their pianist gets too frail to play them. There are 3 other pianists in their 70’s who regularly play at local retirement homes. They won’t be able to play forever, and yet they are the only ones who seem to know the music that’s familiar to the old folks.

Songs from the war era, traditional folk ballads, sweetheart ditties – they’re easy to play and sing, and people doing so give the old folks great pleasure. I encourage you, young pianist – buy a book of old songs (see sidebar for links to online music stores), learn them, and offer your services to a rest home’s entertainment coordinator. It will give you valuable performance experience before an uncritical audience, a blessing to your community and service to the Lord.

As a child and teenager, I felt uncomfortable in retirement homes. I was shy and didn’t know what to say or how to handle their deafness and dementia. I wasn’t a confident performer, either. I’m pondering over what made this change, but in the meantime, I can only advise: keep working on it. Serve the Lord with gladness of heart – and this can be done sharing your joy and vibrancy with the old folk. They need your good cheer.

I was so blessed today to see how a roomful of tired old ladies brightened up when Mrs. Swanney and I gave them “Side by Side”, “Pack Up All your Care and Woe”, and the like. We performed their favourites and they would sing along, swaying in their chairs or patting their knees, applauding enthusiastically at the end. Two of them even got up to dance now and then. Mostly Mrs. Swanney played from the lyrics book Topsy (entertainment coordinator) had dug out of a cupboard for us, and I kept one eye on those lyrics and the other on the people I was singing to. I'll have to swat up on my words so I can start moving around the room.

Mrs. Swanney is my neighbour, a terrific musician in great demand in the community. She plays piano, pipe organ, piano accordian in the Celtic Band, and a horn in the Brass Band. We got chatting at a recent neighbourly housewarming party, and it looks like this is the beginning of a fun partnership. We've had two outings together this week and are planning an Irish program to share with the combined retirement homes’ St. Patrick’s Day party at the RSA on March 17th. They’ll all be wearing something green, and I’m looking forward to getting into the spirit of things with my shamrock dress. = ) The costumes are half the fun of performing!

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