Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Advice for nursing home staff in the dementia ward.

I played 3 nursing home gigs today. They were freebies, but it looks like I will probably get invited back to play and sing for pay. I even got food at one place--an unexpected kindness, thank you. Listen Friedman: there is such a thing as a free lunch!

Enthusiastic nursing staff. A blessing, mostly. Thank you for doing your job, which is difficult, messy, with long hours, often far from home and poorly paid. So thank you. Far better cheerful than grumpy, mean, spiteful, or indifferent.

Just a couple of thoughts though, without at all meaning to be unkind. Clapping along is great, but really, when we get to the bit after As Time Goes By, you know, the Bach Prelude and Fugue in C major, you can stop for a bit, yep, just there. I don't even mind it that much, but I should just tell you so that you know for next time, it's not a mistake that bits of it are slow and thoughtful. Seriously, put your feet up and join in listening. Old people don't need to be geed up into pretending to be excited. If they're excited, they'll cheer and applaud. If they want to listen quietly, they will listen quietly and meditatively. Like that lady, the ex-music teacher who could no longer play anything, but who listened to a few preludes and fugues and told me afterward that her favourite was number 18 in G sharp minor.

And there are old people like that sitting in the audience. Sure, they're not all like that. But you don't need to try to cajole them into singing along to the Fugue. There are no words anyway. They know that. They may have dementia but they're not stupid. If you sat with them peacefully for a bit you would work that out too. Anyway, if you really want to sing to a fugue, humming quietly to yourself will do the trick just fine. They won't complain that you've stopped doing your job, just because you sat with them for a bit.

But hey if you want to get up and dance with them during Maple Leaf Rag, or It had to be You, or Ain't She Sweet, or High on a Hill lived a Lonely Goatherd, or Begin the Beguine, then good on you. Come to think of it, if they want you to dance with them during O Sacred Head Sore Wounded, then dance away, why not? That's something really worth dancing about.

Question for you though. If a nice nursing home person comes and offers you cake as you are singing--I mean, as the words of the song are coming out of your mouth--is that an insult? Or are they just doing their job? I can never tell.


Anonymous said...

Looking fwd to a nursing home visit on Friday. Appreciate your thoughtfulness on music, the elderly and the demented Gordo. Russ

Gordon Cheng said...

Hey Russ, if it's the place that you mentioned to me one time I've played there before. Their budget is pretty tight. So if you ever want to go with me in tow, and have some piano music (no charge) let me know and we will see if we can work it out!