Helping to "Bring to the Classics!" Sing for Seniors Coordinator Alexander Strachan will perform with Opera For Fun Coordinator Wayne Jennings for the senior citizen residents and community at 1 pm for Music Entertainment at the Silver Spring Public Library Branch in Silver Spring, MD! Please join for this free event!
Recently, the United States Secret Service invited me to perform at their Headquarters for Unity Day 2017. Unity Day serves to create cultural awareness through prominent guest speakers in our nation, music, culturally themed rooms, and food. I initially struggled to figure out what I could play for Agents and Directors of various programs within the service. I wanted to create an atmosphere of peace in which resembled the times I play in Hospitals and Hospice.
I’ve had the opportunity to play for Unity Day in the past but this time felt different. Last year, I performed a tribute during the opening ceremony in remembrance of the fallen heroes within the Secret Service. Service members who risked their lives for the greater good. I remember last year being so nervous because I stood in front of a room full of people consisting of the Director of the Secret Service and seemingly everyone who had immense power within the Service. When my time came, I readied my violin to play My Heart Will Go On by Celine Dion. After the ceremony, I went to put my violin away and hide but told myself to have the courage and talk to as many people as possible in the room with my violin in hand. I shook hands with the Director and he said that he enjoyed and appreciated my music. I spoke with different program directors and they all smiled as they shared their own connections with the tribute song. Some Agents had remembered me from before and jokingly called me the Secret Service Violinist.
This year felt like a homecoming. I saw familiar faces and embraced those who I had not seen since last year. Instead of performing a tribute, I had an hour to play on the stage right outside the main room on the lower level. The beauty of Secret Service Headquarters is that its interior reminds me of a mall. The glass side stairwells and marble wall panels broadcast sounds throughout the entire building allowing for amplification and clarity of sound for musical instruments. As I played Summertime from Porgy and Bess I could hear each note ping off the walls to the top floor. I remember smiling as people sat down and closed their eyes to listen. I looked up and saw heads peer over the banisters on each floor to watch me perform. I felt the music traveling in the air like a vapor seeping into the offices of different departments and programs. When I finished playing I was escorted throughout the building to see workshops and demonstrations scheduled for the day. I recall someone asking if I was the Violinist who played Somewhere Over the Rainbow. He shared that he could hear the violin from his office chair and took a break from his work to watch me perform from the stairwell.
I realize that I’m blessed to be able to play in unique and unexpected places for people. I've come to learn that whether I’m playing for the Director of the Secret Service or a patient in Hospice, I find that music bridges the gap of awkwardness between people. I’m amazed at where I perform and will continue to show that much is possible with a violin, willing spirit, engaging attitude, and love.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to perform for the residents at the Hebrew Home Of Greater Washington on the Alzheimer’s Unit. I walked down the hall towards the common area where the TV sounded as if the volume were cranked to the max. The room was warm and some of the residents were asleep or sat motionless in their wheelchairs. I still felt this sense of excitement and eagerness to play because I believed the atmosphere would change once I started playing my violin.
One of the nursing aides turned off the tv and I began tuning my violin to signal I would start the performance. As soon as I moved my bow into the A string and made a sound, one of the residents perked her head up like a sunflower receiving light and smiled. I began with “Can't Help Falling In Love” and took time with phrasing because the carpet and dry air in the room absorbed most of the vibrations coming from my instrument. Quietly, a few of the residents sang along while others began to awake from their stillness. I performed “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” and everyone in the room sang along. By then, I felt as if I were being accompanied by a choir. I couldn’t help but smile because 20 minutes prior the room felt stuffy and lifeless.
By the end of the concert residents were eager to stay for more music although it was time for dinner. I thanked everyone for listening and performed Edelweiss from the Sound Of Music. If you’ve followed my previous post you will know how special that song has become in my life.
A younger woman in the audience applauded and laughed with one of the residents who happened to be her mother. They had talked about the songs and sang along together during the concert. Soon after the music ended, her mother began asking where she was and who her daughter was. The mother’s transition from clarity to confusion reminded me of my grandmother’s ongoing journey with Alzheimer's. It was sad to see but I know playing familiar songs gave both mother and daughter time to laugh and sing together.
I can't wait till next week to play for more residents and families in hopes of bring joy and smiles.
Alexander takes a Master Class David Kim, Concertmaster of Philadelphia Orchestra. Professor Aun AE Baik Kim on piano.