Some were asleep, their heads drooping and little snores escaping from their agape mouths as the warmth of the late afternoon sun overcame them at last. Others gazed around the room, impatient for us to begin. But most sat cosily in their large armchairs, eyes alert and sparkling with anticipation and encouragement as I stood there, my trembling fingers grasping my instrument. With a final intake of air, I raised my flute to my lips . . .
“So far, so good!” I thought happily (and a little arrogantly)!
Suddenly, a sharp, shrill note burst forth from my flute, making me wince inwardly as it’s harsh sound reverberated around the room. To add to my discomfort, in the background, Mum, on the terribly out-of-tune piano, was frantically trying to hit a note that for some unexplainable reason would not play. I drew a quick breath and continued to play. Another terrible note. And another. By now, I was in a frenzy, groaning inwardly at every second note and snatching occasional glances at my audience, horrified at what their reaction would be. To my immense surprise, rather than cringing at the notes as I was, they seemed oblivious to the noise, and most of those who had previously been bored or asleep were now watching interestedly. And though rheumatism prevented many from applauding loudly once we had finished, the joy that that brief moment of music had brought them was clear from the appreciation visible in their eyes.
The scene I have just described appears far from perfect but interestingly, it has remained one of my fondest memories from my first few years of playing the flute. And this is all to do with the way that the audience was so appreciative and willing to overlook my (many!) mistakes!
I can guarantee, that if you are stage-shy like me, yet need to practice playing in front of an audience, you will never find a more willing or appreciative audience than the elderly.
In reality, many performances will be far from perfect, and that’s where playing for the elderly becomes such a blessing. This is because, you begin to realize that not only are you learning to become more confident in playing for others, but at the same time you are being a blessing for them, and can use your abilities to bless people who really need it.
Furthermore, playing for the elderly helps you to learn how to handle unexpected or difficult situations. Once, I went with Mum and my sisters to play at a rest home, and just as I was raising my flute to my lips, it fell apart in my hands! As you can guess, I was devastated! Later, we found out that a tiny screw must have come loose, but my initial thought at the time was that my flute was broken beyond repair and that I had embarrassed myself in front of so many people. To my dismay, I burst into tears!
Fortunately, Mum and my sisters saved the show, continuing to perform what they had prepared, but the experience taught me some vital lessons in playing for an audience. I learned that you have to be prepared for the worst to happen, and that self-control is an important factor in playing for people. But most importantly, I learned to value the elderly for their kindness and empathy. The difference, I think, was that the elderly could identify with me and, unlike people my age, were no longer bothered by whether or not crying was “babyish”. This made them empathetic towards me rather than judgemental.
So, I highly recommend that next time you feel like picking up your instrument and playing it, you make an appointment to play at a local rest home. You may be surprised at how much you get out of it, and how enthusiastic others are about music. And you never know – you may even enjoy the experience!
Just to finish up, for those who are interested I couldn’t help but put one of my favourite flute pieces on here! It’s called Sicilienne and is by one of my all-time favourite composers, Gabriel Faure. So if you have a moment, listen and enjoy! Let the music carry you away . . .