The first step is to talk to the activities director first for scheduling. They can put you in a good slot, and get the activities aides to notify the people who like your kind of music. This is especially true around Christmas- too many carolers just drop in! Times like January are when they really need the people to come and entertain.
Play stuff you remember from your childhood, songs that were special to your family. Share amusing stories associated with those songs. Play as many old standards as you can, and as many songs suitable for singing along as you can. Red River Valley, You Are My Sunshine, and Gene Autry (Back in the Saddle, Deep in the Heart of Texas) and Roy Rogers (Happy Trails To You) songs are GOLDEN.
In a nutshell, take them down "memory lane" as much as possible. When not possible, alternate well known ones with less well known ones, and have less well known ones that allow you to say something about the times or that they can reminisce about. For instance, I do "Movin' Day" ("Landlord said this mornin' to me..."), even though it's not a well known song, and use it to talk a little about the Depression. Since I'm not old enough to have gone through it myself, I don't dwell on it, but I mention that my dad's family had a rough time of it then and that the Depression was something that shaped the lives of that generation. Holiday songs when you're getting close to a particular holiday are good, too. Patriotic songs are particularly good, and even the theme songs of the various armed services, since so many served in the military in that generation.
Various things that are fun for them to remember that you might weave into your "patter" and stories might be things like S&H Green Stamps or Blue Chip Stamps, various old cars including Studebakers, Ramblers, Edsels, finny Fifties cars, Model T's and Model A's, Burma Shave signs, tube radios, stuff like that. Stuff from the Grand Old Opry and/or Hee Haw is usually good.
You aren't just entertaining them for an hour, you are giving them fodder for reminiscing on their own about good times, and people like their grandparents. That, and the tunes in their heads can keep them happy for the rest of the day. Staff have commented to me about how much easier the residents are to work with afterwards... it puts them in a good space, and gives them a respite from thinking about the hospital food, the treatments, the grumpy roommates, and even their aches and pains.
Don't assume that just because someone looks "out of it" that they are... sometimes people have conditions that don't allow them to control their expressions, but they can still track with you. But it's easier for you if you find a few people in the audience that are obviously tracking with you, and make eye contact and tell the stories and sing the songs to THEM. Be patient... interruptions happen, especially in hospital settings. If someone brings in a therapy dog, roll with it and sing "Oh Where, Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone?" or "How Much is that Doggy in the Window?" or your own favorite dog song, then funny stories about your dogs will be good too. Sometimes visitors come- nod and smile to them to make the feel welcome.... they will often sit with their loved one and enjoy watching Mom or Dad or Grandma or Grandpa have fun getting taken down memory lane. It gives them a break too, since they may be at a point where they want to spend time with their loved one, but have long since run out of things to say. Think of yourself as Bob Hope doing a USO show.... it's all about boosting THEIR morale.
They enjoy classic fiddle tunes like: Turkey in The Straw, Arkansas Traveler, Golden Slippers, Eighth of January, Sailor's Hornpipe, waltzes, and Pop Goes the Weasel. Oh yeah, Tennessee Waltz is a must do!
Fiddle jokes and even the jokes from the Arkansas Traveler skit get laughs
Depending on the facility and how frequently you play, the need to vary your material isn't very great.... in hospitals, they may enjoy the same stories, jokes and songs every month or even every week, as long as the songs were good and the stories and jokes funny. In one retirement home, I play four times a year, with two or three months in between, and they've forgotten what I did from the last time. The poor aides probably haven't though! But I'm not really doing it for them...
Thursday, May 28, 2015 @11:22:41 AM
Good essay Michael. Playing nursing homes is at once a challenge and so fulfilling. When I expound about playing nursing homes (encompassing hospitals, and assisted living centers) I always say, "just do it." Don't think about it too much. You'll talk yourself out of it. Especially the second or third time. Being a regular contributor, does so much for both sides. It's Soul building, and Soul mending. Thanks again. FJ (wooli)
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