I played at the hospice unit for the second time yesterday. I was more comfortable than last week, probably because I knew what to expect. Plus, fewer patient rooms were occupied, and the people inside them were much quieter than last week.
A few people spoke to me while I was playing. The daughter of a man being admitted today stopped to say that the music was soothing. Two social workers and one of the nurses stopped and thanked me for playing. I discovered that I can now just manage to say “Thank you” and “I’m glad you are enjoying the music,” and still keep a tune going. Fortunately no one wanted to linger for conversation, or my fingers would have to come to a complete stop.
I brought two new tunes out to play for the first time. There’s nothing like playing something in public to learn where it is going to fall apart. Both tunes keeled over someplace completely different from the measures I drilled intensively last week. At least those drills fixed the measures I worked on. And I don’t have to wonder what I am going to drill this week.
Despite feeling more comfortable, my brain and fingers played many more tricks this week. I misremembered phrases, forgot whole measures, and repeatedly landed on unintended strings. I did lots of creative improvisation, making something up until I figured out where I was and where I was going. But the huge difference was that in the midst of my confusion, there was no fear and no panic. I knew the note I just played was still ringing, and for once I felt like I had all the time I needed to play another note, whether or not it was the one written on the page. Without the panic, I could work my way out of the slips and tangles. Without the panic, I could remember that I was the only one who knew what were mistakes, and that they just didn’t matter. While I was puzzled about why I was missing notes even on tunes I know so well, in the end that didn’t matter either. What mattered was being there and sharing the music I love.
I still don’t know if the music is helpful to patients. But as I was logging my volunteer hours at the end of my shift, one of the nurses said, “I could listen to you play all day. Thank you so much for coming.” And the nurse manager suggested that next week, instead of setting up at the far end of the unit, I play by the window in the unit’s other short hallway. That’s the hallway right next to the nurses station. So I trust that Music is working her magic wherever it is needed, with staff or patient alike.