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