Last fall I was hired by a non-profit group that provides music—live performances—for seniors, in community groups or in facilities. I bet you're thinking that’s nice, but not very cool. Think again.
I started singing in facilities when my mom moved into her first caregiving home in Santa Monica in September 2011. She was immediately launched into her own saga of injuries, hospitalizations, moves and other elderly parent horror stories but we did settle (her) for good right before Thanksgiving that year, installed in her sweet corner room at Dimitri’s down the street :), until her death in October 2016.
But when she had first arrived that fall 2011, at Sunrise, I was getting to know the staff and they were happy to book me; then I called other facilities and it became kind of a regular thing. And then with Three of Diamonds over those years, we had a number of facilities in regular rotation, and of course I always spontaneously sang karaoke for everyone at Dimitri’s, including my mom. Our mom had severe Alzheimer’s, as did most of the residents in that little home-and-care facility. She didn’t really like it when I sang, in fact she would get agitated sometimes, because then my attention wasn’t exclusively hers. But everyone else did. “Happy Together” (the Turtles) was a special fave.
It’s often steady work, and it can be extremely rewarding—and I’m not just saying that. These shows can be truly profound. In facilities folks are often severely ill—and of course many severely ill people are not old. Their smiles light up their beds. Or they are memory-impaired, in which case they often have the sweetest, wildest responses that just pierce your heart. The purity and authenticity are palpable. When I played a “Halloween Party” this fall, one sweet lady smiled ecstatically and conducted us the whole time, her gravity-defying hands just floating up, keeping time.
In facilities people are outside the usual social circles, marginalized—not unlike prisoners, even, like Johnny Cash performed for. Those shows are for people who have almost no choice anymore.
But many seniors are as vital as they come, as we know! Just before Christmas I had a bunch of performances: One was for the Griffith Park Senior Community group. There were hundreds of folks there for the holiday party, and did they ever want to dance! I put together a high-energy soul set—and we rocked that stage and old auditorium. Many danced the whole time. Nothing like it! Talk about hip!
I love doing the shows, especially because it reminds me of mom. And here it is Mother’s Day again, a year and a half after she left us.
For me, this is a really good example of how an idea we have—an image of something, like singing in facilities, which we think of as grim (and don’t get me wrong, sometimes it is), depressing (never), uncool (maybe)—can be so wrong. The truth can be opposite to expectations, and produce moments that live in your heart forever. Bring ‘em on!