I see music affect my elderly listeners in ways that vary as widely as their personalities. Some become animated—talking, singing, itching to dance. Others grow sentimental and weepy. A few sit very still with eyes closed and face serene, transported by the flow of music to a blissful place. Recently, music inspired a woman to ask me a question unlike any I had been asked before.
I was playing an assortment of World War II—era songs for residents of a nearby memory-care facility. My audience of a dozen or so, mostly women, listened from sofas and easy chairs in their “living room” where the tinny spinet piano sat. One was tall, slender, elegant Betty. She wore a red tailored suit with a narrow skirt and white piping along the edge of the jacket. Her carefully arranged curls looked soft as whipped cream, her face rosy.
Betty approached me at the piano. She had removed her large clip-on earring, a vintage pearl cluster. It lay in her palm, which she extended to me. “Can you play this?” she asked.
What story from her life was distilled in this four-word request? Did the music remind her of a night on the town when she wore this earring? Was she asking me to play a song that was special to her husband, who gave her the earring? My music had nudged a memory, but words no longer serve to say what’s on Betty’s mind. I promised to play many more songs, and told her that I hoped some would be her favorites.
Betty seemed satisfied with my response. She went back to her seat with a look of cheerful expectation, her earring clasped safely in her hand. We continued our conversation, letting the music speak for both of us.
Copyright © 2013 by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey
All rights reserved.