When I decide on my set list for a volunteer gig, I stick mostly to American standards from the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. I might add a couple of Doris Day or Tony Bennett favorites from the 1950s, or toss in a Broadway show tune or something from the movies now and then. As a rule, I don’t venture much beyond that in my timeline, because songs written since 1960 seem to hold little appeal for my audiences. I can think of a few exceptions: “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” (from My Fair Lady) and “Till There Was You” (The Music Man) usually get a good reception. So do “Moon River” (from Breakfast at Tiffany’s) and “Somewhere My Love” (Doctor Zhivago).
But in general, there’s a musical line in the sand right around the middle of the 20th century. When I play “You’ll Never Know” (1943) or “Don’t Fence Me In” (1944), my senior listeners feel a sense of connection and ownership. This is “their” music in a way that a song from say, 1965, isn’t. More recent tunes don’t pack the emotional punch that my audiences want – and expect – from the music I play.
It makes me wonder: When baby boomers like me are living in nursing homes and retirement centers, what music will we want to hear?
I’m a little behind the curve on this, because baby boomers already are starting to move into these facilities. The reasons vary. Some want to downsize, simplify their lives, let someone else do the cooking, so they choose an independent-living arrangement in a retirement community. Others, like Deb, have health issues and can no longer live on their own.
Deb relocated from Florida to Michigan a couple of years ago after a stroke, to be closer to her adult children. She’s about my age, making her the youngest person I’ve seen in her assisted-living home. She only attends my performances once in a while, but when she does, I can be sure she’ll ask for something well outside the range of my usual offerings: The Beatles, Gilbert and Sullivan, “something by Marvin Hamlisch” a few days after he died in August of 2012 (I managed to come up with “The Way We Were”). I always get the feeling that her requests have less to do with wanting to hear what she’s asked for, and more with making a statement to her fellow residents: I don’t belong here. I’m not like you. I know her adjustment has been difficult.
Maybe there are other baby boomers who stay in their rooms rather than coming out to listen to music they find irrelevant. Perhaps it’s time for me to sprinkle in some Bob Dylan or Joni Mitchell.
What songs do you want to hear when you’re old(er) and grey?
Copyright © 2014 by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey
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