About me

Piano grade school 1 I started playing the piano at age 7, when my dad announced that we were getting a piano and I would be taking lessons. I stuck with it, studying classical music with private teachers until the end of high school.

I went on to become an academic reference librarian, and have never played the piano professionally. I guess I’d call myself a serious amateur pianist. With sheet music in front of me, I can play most kinds of music adequately if not always perfectly. But I do need the notes on the page. I don’t play by ear. I don’t play from memory.

When I retired in 2004, I began playing the piano for senior citizens in nursing homes and retirement centers in my community. (That community was Madison, Wisconsin, until 2007; I now live in East Lansing, Michigan.)  Most often, I provide background music during meals. Sometimes I entertain for an event. Occasionally, I accompany a singalong group (although someone else leads the singing.)

My elderly audiences inspire and amuse and bewilder me. They’ve also made me cry. And I’ve been irritated a time or two. I write this blog to share their stories—and a bit about myself along the way.

For my volunteer gigs, I focus on popular American standards from the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. This music defines the lives of my older listeners. You play our music, they tell me. It is my privilege to do so.

Paulette Bochnig Sharkey

14 Responses to About me

  1. Sharon Regan says:

    Paulette, What a beautiful note you’ve written. I can hardly wait to have the windows open in the summer to hear the music outside!

  2. Thanks Paulette – you are inspiring me to get my talents out of my living room too. Linda

  3. Jean Fraser Detmer says:

    Paulette, this is how I remember you. Amazing what you can find online – but I’m sure you know that. It is wonderful that you are sharing your talent. You have to bring a lot of happiness to those that you play for.

  4. Hi Paulette! Nice to meet you here. And thanks for the Piano Girl shout out. Keep playing. Someone is always listening. xoxo RMG

    • What a thrill for me that you found my blog, Robin! I’m a big admirer of your writing and your music. Thanks so much for your encouragement and reassurance that someone out there really is paying attention to the pianist 🙂

  5. rlpiano says:

    Hi Paulette,
    Just stumbled into your blog today, as I was wondering who else was out there doing this sort of volunteer work. I just started playing at a local assisted living home last summer, and have also found it a trove of stories. I’ve briefly written some of the experiences (https://www.facebook.com/Rick.Lenz.Pianist.Accompanist/), but not to the quality that you’ve written. I will need to read more of what you’ve written. But let me just say to start that I appreciate what you’re doing here.
    All the best,

  6. Nina says:

    I’m so glad I found your blog! I am also a serious amateur pianist who enjoys volunteering at nursing homes and assisted living facilities. I was making a personal/business card this morning and started to add “Volunteer Pianist” to the list of things I do …, but I wasn’t sure if “Volunteer Pianist” was even a thing. Glad to find out that it is! I look forward to following your blog!

  7. RFod says:

    Thank you for the blog. I play at a home in the UK mostly with dementia patients and outwardly they give little reaction, but the room always fills up when they hear the piano! They do like the “standards” as you say but Chopin also seems to go down very well, jazz not so much! I started visiting the home with my therapy dog, and then they asked me if I played! I have the capacity to play in more facilities, but how did you find out which places both wanted a pianist and had an instrument?
    Best regards


    • I’m glad you found my blog, Rod. Welcome! I’ve tried to sneak in a classical piece now and then, but my listeners definitely prefer the standards. I found opportunities to volunteer by simply calling or visiting senior facilities and asking to speak to the activities director about playing the piano. Very few say no, mostly because they need to fill up their entertainment schedules! If a facility doesn’t have a piano — or the piano is very very bad — I lug along my high-quality full-size keyboard. Best of luck!

  8. Carolyn says:

    I recently signed up for volunteermatch.org and listed pianist for my work. I also asked my niece to ask at a place she formerly worked. They did not have a piano, but the activities director was extremely helpful by giving me the names of places that were local and had a piano. I did this one time so far. The piano had a bad key, but I did my best. I’m going to see if they’ll fix it as the people wanted me to come back again and I’m going to return.

    • Hi Carolyn, I’m glad you decided to give it a try! Being a volunteer pianist is very gratifying work, although I’m sorry to say you’ll find a lot of bad pianos out there 🙂

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