I think most of us understand and appreciate the importance that live music has in our lives. Whether listening to a symphony orchestra in a concert hall, a jazz trio in a small club, a sound bath in a yoga studio or a rock concert in a stadium, the effects of live music on our bodies, minds and spirits are undeniable.
During these unsettling and uncertain times of fear, social distancing and isolation I have marveled at the creativity and determination that many musicians have shown by creating split-screen videos with their ensembles, Zoom concerts, and live-streaming performances on social media. Musicians need to be heard as much as audiences need to hear them and we are fortunate to have these technologic stages from which to perform and to witness.
But… the energy and emotions created by sound vibrations and the interactions between musicians and listeners cannot be replicated through Zoom, YouTube or Facebook. I, like many musicians, have been missing these experiences… a lot.
But this week was different. I had several gigs, playing live for very alive and appreciative audiences – the first time in over three months.
Most were outdoors, or a combination of indoor/outdoor. The first gig I played on the other side of a fence with the audience seated in a nearby patio area. I have to admit, it felt weird at first - the distance apart, the physical barrier between us. They were all wearing masks. I couldn’t because, well…I play the flute.
I also played the harp and chose a variety of songs ranging from classical to golden oldies to country western. It was a tough crowd and I wasn’t sure how well we were all connecting, but then I saw foot tapping, hand clapping and chair dancing. Some folks started singing along. I was encouraged – live music was working its magic.
The second gig was different. I played outside of peoples’ open windows. I couldn’t see anyone and wasn’t sure if they could hear or see me. But after the first few tunes, I heard
muffled clapping from inside. I kept playing. As I packed up, I heard a woman’s voice call out, “Thank you so much, it was wonderful. We really needed that.”
The next gig was on a back patio, where the audience sat physically distanced from me but with no barriers. After a few tunes, the mood of the audience changed from withdrawn to engaged and smiling. Some sang. Some cried.
Later, I played in the living room of a home – again everyone was seated far from me, but we were able to interact with each other comfortably. I could not have predicted the appearance of a giant sombrero and salsa dancing. Naturally, I had to play La Bamba.
One of my last gigs had the largest crowd. It was happy hour. I played right outside the main door, opening into a large room where the audience was seated.
This crowd was really into musicals, so I was happy to play selections from The Sound of Music, Porgy and Bess, Oklahoma and South Pacific. I took requests. It turned into a full-on sing-along. The staff poured drinks and handed out snacks. We were all having a good time – it was indeed a happy hour.
Afterwards, the manager came up to thank me. She told me that her boss had been apprehensive about having this event but assured her that all precautions would be taken.
“You don’t know how much this meant to everyone”, she told me. I asked if she had been able to have music for her other events. She looked at me a little funny and said, “Today is the first time these people have been out of their rooms in two months.”
While we’ve all been affected by COVID-19, residents, families and staff in assisted living facilities have also been challenged in many ways. In an environment where isolation and loneliness can be a problem even in normal conditions, dedicated and compassionate staff has been challenged in how to keep their residents safe, healthy and occupied amidst a shutdown that denies visits from their families and the outside world.
Activity directors who, before the pandemic, were able to contract with performers and therapists or schedule volunteer arts and crafts teachers have been scrambling to create ways to keep their residents engaged. I see nurses and caregivers finding new creative ways to interact with their residents. Many have changed their own outside behaviors and lifestyles to ensure their residents safety when they come to work.
I’m grateful to work as a therapeutic musician for Alliance Home Health Care & Hospice in Albuquerque, New Mexico. They understand and value the importance of live music to those in assisted living and support me in finding creative, safe ways to connect with those who need it most during these unprecedented times.
Here’s to more alive music!