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  • Bob Roden

Playing for Seniors

During 2019, I’ve had the opportunity to play several times at a senior living facility in Piedmont. I was aware that musicians sometimes performed at such places, but I had never done so myself.

The first opportunity arose when my friend, pianist Larry Walter, invited me to join him on a daytime visit. We went in as a piano/trombone duo and played an hour of jazz standards. We had a good time and were well received, and since then have done it twice more.

Those dates led to the Bob Roden Quintet playing an evening, hour-long concert at Piedmont Gardens in October. We were a big hit too.

So what is it like playing for audiences of seniors?

In a word, it’s great. Seniors are interested, attentive and appreciative, and in general they are much more familiar with jazz –especially the standards – than are younger audiences. They listen and enjoy, and are consistently delighted to hear us play tunes they know but seldom get to hear. They often sing along, and usually are all smiles.

I do adjust the repertoire a bit when playing for senior audiences. The main adjustment is that I choose almost entirely songs I believe they will recognize or that will at least sound familiar to them. It’s not that they wouldn’t enjoy hearing material they didn’t know – they absolutely would -- but I think the pleasure factor is ratcheted up each time that moment of recognition occurs. Mixed with it, I think, is a little bit of happy surprise that we’re playing something they wouldn’t have thought we would know.

I also suspect, without any real evidence but with the power of simple logic, that our music probably triggers memories for seniors and “takes them back” just a little bit to their younger lives. I like to think so, anyway.

Even with those elderly individuals whose memories are impaired or who are otherwise less outwardly responsive than others, it always feels like the music still reaches them in some way, and that’s gratifying as well.

In a year in which BRQ has consciously tried to move in the direction of playing in more listening-oriented (as opposed to purely social) settings, playing for seniors has turned out to be a surprisingly good fit. I hope to make it a regular part of our schedule going forward, and I hope that, if I’m ever a resident of a senior facility one day, some slightly-younger musicians will come around and play those old familiar tunes for me as well.

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