Today, I played at a care home in our village. Since moving to Scotland, this has become an important source of employment for me – not necessarily financially speaking, but in terms of giving me a moment to reflect on what I do and why I do it.
Playing in care homes can be challenging. Some residents are in much physical discomfort and others are suffering the cruel effects of dementia and its associated illnesses. I have come to recognise how challenging it must be to work in a care home. Employees have to balance compassion and understanding with their own vulnerability as human beings.
As a result of the working environment, the performance conditions can be very challenging. Staff must continue their everyday work, relatives come to visit – perhaps failing to recognise the nature of a performance environment and residents may sing along with the musician. I’ve also noted that the temperature tends to be very, very warm – obviously limbs in later life get colder more easily. I’ve had to deal with sweaty fingers and strings going very out-of-tune. These are all alien concepts to those with a classical training but I have come to believe that working in such an environment can be humbling and reminds us of how fortunate we are to be doing the work which we do.
I am lucky enough to work in The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland where the students are simply a joy. Such institutions set up wonderful performance opportunities for their students (as they did for me many moons ago) but I must say, I wonder if we should be encouraging them to serve their community and to take opportunities which remind them of how blessed they are. Being a musician can, and should be, hard work. Giving those in their formative years incredible and positive experiences can be a real inspiration to students, but maybe a few challenges of an unexpected nature thrown in could be beneficial in the long-term.
Today, I went with a portfolio of about thirty pieces and selected half of these as I went along. It is great training to try to evaluate the mood of an audience and respond accordingly.
Finally, playing in care homes means that we give something of real worth to those who truly appreciate it. It won’t necessarily gain you credibility with the ‘in-crowd’, but if you do a good job, you will leave with the satisfaction of knowing that your efforts are valued and appreciated.