Nursing home recitals

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: Today is Tuesday, July 17th. 

Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.

Good morning. I’m Megan Basham.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.

Americans spend millions of dollars each year on music instruction. Piano lessons. Guitar lessons. And from the parents’ perspective, the hope is that kids will learn discipline, fine motor skills, and confidence.

BASHAM: Right, and a lot of the confidence comes from performances, where students at the end of the year will get all dressed up and take the stage.

You remember those recitals. All year you work toward that performance.

It motivates you to practice, practice, practice.

EICHER: Well, today WORLD Radio’s Kim Henderson is here with a story about a typical recital in a not-so-typical place.  

KIM HENDERSON, REPORTER: The Aspen is a 44-suite state-of-the-art assisted living center. Built just last year, it reflects new trends in nursing homes. Modern décor. A fully-equipped gym, and a safe room. Residents can even keep their pets. And on a recent Saturday morning, the facility was filled with young music students.

AUDIO: Recital music

That’s because a pair of music teachers wanted their students to perform for an audience, but not in a typical recital venue. Older sister Samantha explains.

SAMANTHA: We were trying to make it a little bit more informal this year . . . We’ve played at different nursing homes before and the students enjoyed it and the residents enjoyed it. And it’s a good way to kind of multi-task – make it less about the students performing and sounding good and more about them blessing other people with their music.

Samantha handles piano instruction at Morningside Music Studios. Her violin-playing sister Chloe offers lessons in stringed instruments.

CHLOE: It’s something you have to pick up every day, or almost every day because so much of it is muscle memory . . .  A lot of times there’s an idea that you can come in to a lesson every week and that’s how you learn how to play and they don’t realize there’s a lot more commitment to it than that at home.”    

The audience at The Aspen seemed easy-going enough, but even there, some of the students seemed anxious. A young pianist described the scene in in one word:

AUDIO: Uh, scary.

And his sister explained why.

AUDIO: Everybody’s watching you. Like, they just stare at you.

They want it over. Allegro. D.C. al fine. Anyone who’s been in a recital can relate. I think of my own botched performance of a certain so-na-tina. I couldn’t remember how to play it when it counted. Somehow it continues to play in my memory four decades later.

Samantha understands that.

SAMANTHA: A lot of them were fighting nerves, for sure. It’s practice, just like learning the instrument. You have to practice to learn how to perform and to keep those nerves in check . You know, it’s always a lot of pressure. We try to just stay as cheerful as we can and keep the tone light and fun and encourage them not to think of it as, “Oh, no, I have to perform,” but more a gentle, enjoyable experience.”

The program included all the usuals. Chopin. Bach. Fur Elise.

AUDIO: Fur Elise


AUDIO: Edelweiss

Folk songs.

AUDIO: Oh, Susannah

Even an Irish jig.

AUDIO: Clancy 

The familiarity factor was important to residents. Macy Givens works as community relations liaison at The Aspen.

GIVENS: The clapping and the foot stamping stimulates their motor skills . . . And sometimes when they hear an old hymn or something like that, they reminisce on their childhood and start singing the hymns and remembering the words to them.

The Aspen has a piano courtesy of a silver-haired resident named Mrs. Nash. She’s glad the facility allowed her to keep her walnut-stained upright Yamaha.

NASH: I just said, “Can we bring our piano with us?” And they said yeah. It got up here somehow.”

After the recital, I asked Mrs. Nash and her fellow residents to critique the performance.

AUDIO: I loved every minute of it. Emily, didn’t you?

AUDIO: Seeing them try so hard. That was really rewarding.

AUDIO: I just say I enjoyed the whole thing. (another voice) “Yeah, it was good.

Rich Balcom is dad to two students on the program.

BALCOM: Some of the other recitals that we’ve been to have been at churches, and that’s wonderful. But to be here with the residents and for them to see the children and to watch them and listen to them play is such a blessing. You can see smiles on all of their faces . . .

And smiles built to a crescendo when the pair of teachers moved to the piano bench for a finale duet.

AUDIO: Music with applause

Everyone tuned in – from the scale-player wearing seersucker pants to the orderly in scrubs listening from the doorway.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Kim Henderson reporting from Brookhaven, Mississippi.

(Photo/Kim Henderson)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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