I’ve come to expect competing sounds when I’m at the piano: my audience talks, their cell phones ring (and get answered), aides’ pagers squawk, wayward wheelchairs set off alarms, kitchen staff clank utensils as they clear tables. Ours is a noisy world.
But I’m still scratching my head over being upstaged by a tree.
The week after Thanksgiving, I arrived for my twice-monthly volunteer gig at an assisted living center. I headed for the dining room, where I play a neglected upright piano while the residents eat lunch. About halfway through my hour, I heard music tinkling nearby. I was confused. “The Twelve Days of Christmas” wafted into my right ear, but I was playing “It Had to Be You.” A moment later I realized why. A little musical Christmas tree revolved in the center of a table a few feet from the piano. There sat four well-coiffed elderly diners, calmly eating their Salisbury steak. Theirs was the only table with a wind-up tree, so one of them likely brought the decoration herself to brighten the institutional setting. I struggled to pull my attention back to the keyboard, to concentrate on the melody beneath my fingers. I played a handful of wrong notes. Eventually my ceramic competitor slowed and stopped. Thankfully, no one opted for a partridge-in-a-pear-tree encore.
I continued my program and a short while later the four women silently filed past me to return to their rooms. As they left, I was distracted by the thought that one of them—seated close enough to touch the piano bench where I sat—reached out and wound up that tree, perhaps commenting companionably to her tablemates, “Let’s have a little music while we eat.”
Copyright © 2013 by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey
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