As a performer, I have played for all kinds of audiences over the years. There are traditional concerts in beautiful concert halls, outdoor concerts at parks, recitals in intimate venues, and playing in the orchestra pits of musicals and ballets. There are other performances, too, and sometimes those are my favorites… often they provide the best reality checks, keeping us humble (and smiling): Performing for children and seniors. Every musician has their tales.
One of my favorite stories from the trenches came from a fellow musician. His friend was an actress, and she was presenting a scene at a nursing home. In the middle of a very dramatic moment, one of the female audience members called out in a clear, loud voice, “Is there no end to this?” That’ll take the wind out of your Shakespeare in a heartbeat, let me tell you. Seriously- what do you do? Well, when all else fails, the show must go on.
My mom used to have me go play at the nursing home where one of her dear friends lived when I came home for the holidays. Classical Clarinet is not one of those instruments that lends itself to being a big fan fave on its own. Give me piano accompaniment or a chamber group, and it’s a whole different story. I racked my brain trying to think of some tunes that these wonderful seniors might enjoy, and came prepared with several different pieces, ending with the famous opening clarinet solo from Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’.
I was surrounded by seniors in the common room, and I did my best to play fun and flashy pieces (always my mom’s favorite), and talked a little bit between each one. I began the jazzy Gershwin, beginning with the low trill and glissing up, launching into what I thought would be a fun grand finale to my little recital. Right in the middle of it (which I will admit is in the higher range of the clarinet), a woman in a wheelchair put her hands on her ears and began screaming bloody murder. Seriously. That, my friends, will deflate any drop of ego you may have in a heartbeat. I quickly wrapped up my performance. I’m sure there was a medicinal chocolate shake with Mom afterwards.
I’ve had similar experiences playing for young children, who are distracted by each other and bugs that serendipitously showed up by a scream-ready group of girls smack-dab in the middle of my performance. Those screams make your hair stand on end, and they are burned into my performance anxiety nightmares. <shudders dramatically>
I love every chance I get to perform, no matter what or where. Getting to play for those that don’t often get to come into the concert or recital halls is extra special, and something that is important to me as a teacher. There are the moments when a child’s eyes light up when they hear live music for the first time. When a senior will grab my hand and look into my eyes with eyes filled with memories, sharing their stories about their own playing or that of their children. Those times never fail to touch my heart. I especially love sharing the gift of music with the very young and the very old…even when hair-raising screams are involved.