I’m not paid to be a volunteer pianist. Not in a monetary fashion, at least. But my elderly listeners find myriad ways to express their appreciation for my music.
Nadine blows me a kiss when she passes the piano. Others offer a quick hug or a good, strong pat on the back. I always get a long-distance thumbs-up and a grin from Ed, a gaunt man who wears a “Just Do It” t-shirt and a baseball cap. He sits at the “guy’s table” halfway across the room, his oxygen canister riding on the back of his wheelchair.
Then there’s the food. If I’m playing the piano during lunch (or dinner, as it’s confusingly called in some places because it’s the main meal of the day), one listener faithfully brings me a glass of apple juice, another occasionally delivers a slice of pie. Doily-lined plates of Christmas cookies await me each December.
Home-grown produce comes my way: corn on the cob, zucchini, yellow squash, tomatoes, all grown by residents on the grounds of their retirement home. Tony traveled to Italy last summer and brought back seeds for San Marzano tomatoes, a little-known variety he says are long and narrow like peppers but twisted in shape, with a wonderful flavor. He promises to plant them next growing season and let me sample. Tony gardens from his wheelchair, using a spade, a hoe, and a long-handled trowel. He makes it look easy.
Gus, a former high school band director and trombone player, lets me know he enjoys my performance by stopping his walker next to the piano and raising an imaginary trombone to his lips. Then he silently plays a brief musical passage for me, running the trombone’s pretend slide out and back for full effect.
This wreath was a show of gratitude from an audience at an assisted living facility. During one visit, I noticed that the residents were making wreaths from used books by taking apart the binding, rolling each page into a cone, and stapling it to foam board. I supplied 200 pieces of sheet music—nothing valuable, mostly music with missing or damaged pages—which the group used to create this custom, nearly 4-ft wide hanging. In the center, I added a mask I purchased years ago in a theatre supply store in Vienna.
Lastly, as readers of this blog already know, my listeners like to talk to me. Their stories, too, are gifts. And they just might be my favorites.
Copyright © 2013 by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey
All rights reserved.