Last summer I was asked to provide music at a party for the residents of the Brown County Health and Living Community.
I showed up with my guitar and had a great time playing and singing for a very receptive audience. I am happy that I was asked back for this year’s Saturday afternoon soiree, which should be even more fun because I have convinced my wife, Becky, to come along and sing a few songs with me.
As I was preparing for last summer’s gig, I found myself looking through various songbooks trying to find music that I thought would appeal to the elderly residents who make up almost all of the nursing home population.
I found some songs written in the 1920s and ’30s which I thought would work. These were songs I had heard in old movies or documentaries or perhaps read about in books. The songs were familiar to me in historical terms, the way one is familiar with Stephen Foster songs from the 1850s.
I played several of these songs at last summer’s event. After the party as I was thinking about it, I realized there was a error in my song selection process.
See, I was imagining the typical elderly person at the party to be someone around my grandparents’ age. As I started doing the math, though, I realized my time frame was a bit off considering at least one of my grandparents was born in 1899. As I thought about it, I understood that the average person in the audience probably would be closer to my parents’ age.
Both my parents died many years ago, and it is hard for me to picture them in my mind as “elderly.” Maybe that is the error that led to a realization which led to a sort of revelation.
I realized that if my parents were part of the Health and Living audience then the music they might relate to would be not so much from the 1920s as from the late 1940s or, more likely, the 1950s and ’60s. This meant that the music I might want to play would be, with a little overlap, more or less the same music I grew up listening to.
That realization was followed by another: If my parents today would be considered elderly, that means I am getting up there myself.
But I don’t feel old. By that I mean I don’t have an internal image of myself as an old person. I think of the adage, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?” and I don’t picture an old person.
I wonder how many people no matter what their age think of themselves as “old.” I wonder how many people no matter what their age carry around inside a young person.
I also wonder how many carry around in their heads music spanning several decades. Being born in a certain time period doesn’t restrict you to the music of that era. I am proof of that. I like those songs from the 1920s. A good song is a good song no matter if it was written in 1850 or in 2014. Besides, we often like songs because of the memories they carry for us, and memories can be made at any age from songs of any era.
So maybe this year I won’t worry so much about what musical era Becky and I need to represent. We will just play songs we know and like and hope the audience will enjoy them. Maybe some will evoke a few memories as we play. Come to think of it, a couple of Stephen Foster songs would make for a good singalong.
Norman Knight, a retired Clark-Pleasant Middle School teacher, writes this weekly column for the Daily Journal. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.