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Developing a Show for Nursing Homes and Extended Care Facilities

Posted by bj on Thursday, July 7, 2011

I've been playing gigs for Nursing Homes and Extended Care Facilities. And I'm starting to figure out what works well and what doesn't.

When playing to an audience who aren't doing anything but paying attention to me, I've found that playing at least a few tunes they'll recognize is a good thing. So I've added Polly Wolly Doodle, Oh Susannah, Old Dan Tucker and a few other old standards to the mix.

The other thing that works well is to figure out how to get folks involved on an audience participation level. Getting them to clap or sing a refrain is a good thing, though I usually have to lead the refrain, which is making me better at singing while I'm fiddling (though I've also simplified the fiddle part on those sections!) Sourwood Mountain is great for this! We don't sing the whole tune, I just get them to sing the "Heigh Ho! Fiddle Ei Aye!" part, which is great fun!

Of course each show has its own needs.

The one facility I play at, I'm usually strolling around the dining tables while they're eating. Doing singalongs or other audience participation is out of the question while people are eating. I arrange the sets so that the softer and more moderately paced stuff is happening while they're eating their main course, and the more boisterous and participatory tunes come over coffee and dessert towards the end, so they can choose to sing along or clap then.

It's been a really interesting experience playing these gigs. I've learned that I can't take it personally if someone doesn't respond, since many of these folks have profound physical issues that may be commanding a big percentage of their attention. I've also learned to get over the embarassment I felt at seeing these people when they're not at their best. I've seen food dribbling out of someone's mouth, watched as the ostomy bag overflowed under someone's wheelchair, and learned to play over grunts, yells, and other rather surprising noises. I've learned to just take it in stride, play right through it, and call the nurse between tunes if there's something that needs attention.

But the rewards are really great!

The last gig I did, one gentleman sat off in a corner in his wheelchair with his glasses askew, his eyes closed, and a shoe hanging off his foot. I thought for sure he was sleeping through my whole show, since he barely moved a muscle. When I did Sourwood Mountain and everyone sang the refrain, he just sat there. I played a couple more tunes, and then went to change fiddles, which I kept on a table near his chair. Lo and behold, I hear him muttering "Heigh Ho Fiddle Ei Aye" in a really soft voice while I wasn't playing! I got through!

17 comments on “Developing a Show for Nursing Homes and Extended Care Facilities”

FiddleJammer Says:
Thursday, July 7, 2011 @6:20:30 AM


Cyndy Says:
Thursday, July 7, 2011 @6:45:21 AM

Wonderful thing all the way around. Do you play alone or have others along?

bj Says:
Thursday, July 7, 2011 @6:47:54 AM

I'm it. Just me and my fiddle. No mikes, no amps, done the old fashioned way.

Ozarkian DL Says:
Thursday, July 7, 2011 @7:11:46 AM

Bro. Luther plays fer em all tha time. A very rewarding endeavor indeed. Tha last sentence in yer blog was very touching to me. Gramps passed away in Ozark Co. old folks home.

Tha old fashioned're building on your rewards BJ.

SueH Says:
Thursday, July 7, 2011 @7:25:23 AM

Excellent! I've been playing for seniors almost full time for the last year. Your description was right on. . .
I play alone or with a friend on guitar. When he's with me, we sing a medley of TV tunes ending with All in the Family. I do a mean Edith Bunker! (a little embarrassed to say).

sherry Says:
Thursday, July 7, 2011 @9:09:15 AM

I have played at nursing homes for twenty 27 years with the Utah Old Time Fiddlers. You sound like you are doing a good job. They love the old tunes they remember. I was at a center where a members wife was at for Alzheimer condition. She just laid there until we played red wing, her foot started tapping and we knew she recognized the tune. We play no longer than 30 to 45 minutes that is about as long as most are able to sit without getting tired. One home we were at, we were playing some big band era stuff when a little lady stood up and said, "aren't are we going to hear any bluegrass?!

bj Says:
Thursday, July 7, 2011 @9:27:48 AM

Most of the gigs are an hour. One was longer, it was a "Family and Friends" party with a buffet, where residents and family members were floating in and out of the party. That one lasted two hours, and was great, since the visiting kids were making the residents laugh. A couple of the kids started breakdancing to my fiddle tunes.

playmorebluegrass Says:
Friday, July 8, 2011 @10:55:07 AM

i'm proud of you girl ! the most rewarding thing that i have ever done was playing for nursing homes !!!

bj Says:
Friday, July 8, 2011 @10:58:09 AM

Well, it isn't completely an altruistic thing, in all fairness. I'm getting paid to play!

playmorebluegrass Says:
Friday, July 8, 2011 @2:50:59 PM

=) the feeling of accomplishment is quite awesome ! (=

Tennessee Tom Says:
Friday, July 8, 2011 @5:18:43 PM

It is great that you are doing this!

Rene Says:
Friday, July 8, 2011 @7:09:19 PM

We have played a few times at the hospital in long term poor ole fellow tried to escape in his wheelchair but the nurse drug him back.
It's a blessing to do and the favorite place we play

bj Says:
Friday, July 8, 2011 @7:28:26 PM

"one poor ole fellow tried to escape in his wheelchair but the nurse drug him back. " Gee, that nurse must have transferred to PA!

Humbled by this instrument Says:
Saturday, July 9, 2011 @6:06:20 AM

Have played Escaton with Bluegrass band. good time.

bj Says:
Saturday, July 9, 2011 @9:45:49 AM

Ummmmm . . . Humbled? You said something normal and nice. Are you feeling okay? I'm worried about you . . .

richdissmore Says:
Saturday, July 9, 2011 @7:19:26 PM

i had one chance to play for my mother in a retire ment home my band played one hour then we had to go i sang[ have i told you lately that i love you ] then we left i have play at wood rige retirement home here in racine wis.

Humbled by this instrument Says:
Sunday, July 10, 2011 @4:47:41 PM

Uhm well go ahead and sing "Long Black Veil" for these folks. It'll prolly hasten the natural order of things apace.

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