Week 5 musings
Monday and Tuesday, 2/1 and 2/2. I got an A part written, 8 bars in 4/4. Feeling it will do, and then remembered I needed to catch up on the blues course, and spent Tues afternoon and evening rushing through the week’s modules. Feeling always behind.
Wednesday morning and the wind was stiff and it was raining hard, and I started to think I wouldn’t take my morning walk. I sat down to the harp with a cheering sense of having the extra time I would need to get things done. With my tea and computer by my side I got down to business; busyness. Ten minutes in, when I was just digging in, the lights flickered several times and went out. I considered my situation. My hope of catching up was going to be lost, unless the power came back on soon, or I could find a place to work with electricity. As I live in the country, the power outage could go on for hours. I would have poor light, the computer battery charge was low, and the house was already cold, and would get colder without electricity. I wouldn’t have the internet , or the light or the warmth to work well. I thought about where I could go with my harp and computer to get homework and composing done.
I considered going to the library, but since I was planning to visit my mother at her nursing home later in the day, I thought why not combine visit and harp homework at the nursing home. I collected myself, the harp stuff, the ipad to film, the computer for notation, and breakfast and lunch. It would be warm and light there, so I could work on my music, and I could heat up the oatmeal in their microwave. And I would bring my mother some unexpected diversion.
I found my mother in the Family Room, with about 30 other ware-housed residents. Most were asleep, a few were staring blankly ahead; no one was engaged; and my mother was in the front row, expressionless eyes looking directly at a large screen TV tuned to a canned music station. Vapid music my mother would never choose to listen to, and would abhor. She wanted to leave as soon as she saw me.
So in a bit of a stew, I took my harp and set up at the end of a hall just outside my mother’s room. I wheeled my mother out of the Family Room and set her so she could sit close by and listen. I asked her neighbor, Wick, if he wanted to listen too, and he did.
I sat down at the harp and worked on entering notation into the computer for my blues homework, while playing phrase by phrase on the harp. There were no complaints from Wick and my mother, but after 15 minutes, I told them they got a reward. I played Carolan’s Lord Inchiquin, and then Wick’s son, Jim, arrived and sat down, enthused to have something different to do with his father.
Composed by Carolan 300 years ago
As I played, the woman with the pinwheel on the back of her wheelchair came out into the corridor to listen; and the taciturn husband who is devoted to his wheelchair -bound wife, brought her around the corner so she could hear; and a tall gaunt man wheeled himself out of the room just across from my mother’s room. I had never seen him before, and the entrance to his room was barred with a red STOP sign. He approached eagerly.
So I had an audience; and found myself performing. I told them that I was composing a piece of music for harp every week and that I was going to give them the world premiere of week 3’s composition, Carolan Wannabe; that I wasn’t quite ready to perform it, so they had to bear with me while I worked the kinks out. And Jim agreed to film it on the ipad. In between each take, I practiced the hard spots, and I think I got a good-enough take.
Carolan Wannabe: world premiere at the nursing home.
My mother's measured comment was, "It's coming". The eternal teacher, with her need to give her opinions and gentle encouragement to the student who hadn’t reached the desired result. She thought she was helping me, and that I needed this inspiration.
I did not respond, but took the harp over to the wheelchair –bound wife. I let her play with the harp strings, while her husband asked a lot of questions. I played on the bass end of the harp and she played up high on the strings. I told her to play as loudly as she wanted and not to be afraid that she would hurt the harp. After 10 minutes of experimenting, she reached far forward, her arms on either side of the strings, and clasped my hands. She released my hands and then clasped them again, and held them. Such a moment.
The tall man from the quarantined room, came over to me and said how much he loved the harp and how happy he was to hear me play. And by the sincerity of his smile and emotional response, I sensed that I had touched him, as he had just touched me.
I have played at this nursing home many times for 30 or more residents, but this day, before just 6 residents I will remember.
2/6/2016 02:55:55 pm
Wow, Alexandra. What a great blog, as well as a testimonial to live therapeutic music. Good for you!
Alexandra Thanks Kathy for leaving your comment. I am enjoying the HYMM program even though it is taking over.
2/6/2016 06:43:33 pm
Alex, this was so great to hear!!! Your playing is so musical and that you are composing what you are playing is fantastic!!! Thank you for sharing!
Alexandra Robbin, Thank you for commenting. It means so much to hear what you have to say. I am enjoying the composing in spite of myself.
2/7/2016 10:36:52 am
Sally Alexandra, that was a lovely blog. I remember how music was one of the few things that could my father, who suffered from Alzheimer's, engaged. It is truly powerful and the story you told was very touching. Thanks for writing this and for sharing your beautiful music not only with your small, special live audience but with us as well.
Alexandra Sally, thanks for your comment. Have you seen the film Alive Inside? I had it out from my local library(!) and its so touching. About how alzheimer's patients and others are reached by music. And hoping to read your blog soon.
2/18/2016 10:24:32 am
Kathy Oh, Alexandra, I saw "Alive Inside" at a local theatre with a "Meet and Greet" with the director and producer afterwards. A very powerful film! And their discussion afterwards was equally powerful. They set out with one intention, and ended up making a film that was quite different than originally planned. It was touching to see how they were literally overcome with the power of music to change people's lives.
2/8/2016 11:48:04 am
Deborah Henson-Conant It was marvelous to hear the music after reading the story, and I loved the simplicity and inclusiveness of the videography. As I read the story I thought of the Pied Piper, bringing people out of apathy to gather around the bard - and it's funny, but your description of the weather totally drew me in!
Alexandra Like the pied piper suggestion.
2/9/2016 08:56:45 pm
Sherj Probably the greatest blessing the residents had that day. To have someone care enough about them, to break up the desultory screen of television land and replace it with human contact. Well done Alex. (And when it's my turn to move into a facility like that, I hope you will be there to grasp my hand!)
Alexandra I will clasp your hands, and clap!