Back in Middle School and High School, when I was still a piano student, my piano teacher would have us visit convalescent homes to play piano for the elderly there. She never really prefaced it much. She just called it “Community Service” and told us students that we were required to go. Really, it was just an excuse to have scattered mini piano recitals throughout the year.
My piano teacher would coordinate with the same convalescent home every time, and have us come in early in the morning. Despite going there multiple times, I vaguely recall it always being a cloudy or gloomy day. The nurses and care takers would wheel in the elderly into the multipurpose room and line them up. At the front of the room was a rickety piano that was slightly out of tune and needed a phone book to stabilize the foot pedals. Over the years, it would be pretty clockwork in terms of how things ran. We would line up youngest to oldest and sit in front of everyone. Whoever was the oldest student there was in charge of essentially being an MC (welcoming people and announcing who is next). Each student would play their prepared song, and it would follow with a small applause. 90% of the audience was probably asleep, inattentive, or didn’t have the ability to applaud; so most of it came from the nurses and parents standing in the back. At the end, we would be presented certificates in appreciation from the staff.
For the most part, it was get in and get out. I remember counting down the number of students left to play. Since there was often a large age range, the first half would fly by due to little ones playing their level 1 and 2 songs. And then the last 2 or 3 students would take forever because they would have a 10 minute sonata. I just wanted to go home and have a fun filled Saturday. I don’t know if any of this was particularly meaningful to our audience. It may have just been something to watch or listen while the nurses cleaned their beds and rooms. I’m sure those that were attentive appreciated the change in activity. I think if we weren’t there, a typical Saturday morning involved a book reading or watching TV in that same room.
I never really thought much of it. I mean, who would when you had to wake up early on a Saturday morning to do something you didn’t really want to do. Upon reflecting a little bit, I think it’s a pretty cool concept now. For the younger or more shy students, it gave them some experience performing in front of an audience, albeit in a more casual setting. For the older students, it was somewhat of a leadership opportunity having to be responsible and publicly speak on behalf of everyone. Whether or not this was intentional, I appreciate that my piano teacher did this now. As for the elderly I played for, I’d like to think that I impacted them, if even just a little bit.