“You gonna be our Elvis?” asked the old, freckled gentleman. As if I wasn’t nervous enough without being asked to live up to the King. I guess it was the somewhat shiny vintage sport coat I wore to make a good first impression. After months of procrastination and idle talk, I was finally playing my first volunteer gig at a senior home. I’d spent weeks mining the “Hit Parade” cds at the library for gems from the great American pop music canon. Cole Porter, the Gershwins, Hoagy Carmichael and lesser known songsmiths along with a healthy amount of Johnny Cash and yes, Elvis. Now it was show time.
Frankly, I was surprised when I got an applause after my first number. I guess I wasn’t expecting such an enthusiastic response from a room full of sleepy, frail looking folks in wheelchairs. I was also pleasantly surprised when they spontaneously sang along with “Georgia on my mind”. Maybe this gig would be more fun than I thought.
These were the first of many surprises I have experienced while trying to help soothe the pain, lethargy, sadness, crankiness, loneliness and boredom of old age with the simple, yet powerful salve of rhythm and melody. Hecklers. Octogenarian catfights. Getting pinched by dancing dementia patients. You’ll hear about all this and more in future posts. Who knows? It just might inspire you to volunteer at a senior home near you (or at least visit your grandma more often). Until then, how about a tune?
Here’s my take on the Gershwins’ “Nice work if you can get it.”