A Calling

I felt a calling to visit a particular Hospice patient of mine so I set out to visit her as soon as I could. I’m learning that sometimes we’re called to a certain task at a seemingly random time for an important reason. I was excited because two weeks prior, I visited and learned that she had been playing the violin for the majority of her life and loved music.

The first visit was so endearing and heartfelt. She laid on the couch and couldn’t believe I came the day after she requested music through her social worker. She pointed to her violin on the floor and said that she used to play but got sick and couldn’t any longer. She shared that she had worked on the Vivaldi Seasons right up until she had to put the violin down for good.

Before I began, she asked where I studied. Amazingly, we knew the same violinists and community. I know this is cliche but it’s such a small world. I started with Ave Maria and I wish you could have seen her face light with warmth and joy. She seemed at peace.

After the music, she told me she wished she was well enough to get up and play duets with me. I ended with Salut d'amour by Edward Elgar to which she responded with a kind smile and light chuckle.

I reflected on that visit as I drove to her home and couldn't help but become eager and excited to play once more. I knocked on the door and the caregiver answered. She remembered me from the first visit and her smile faded. “She’s taken a turn for the worst and probably won’t want to hear the music but I’ll talk to her.” I accepted the news and said I had a quilt to give her from Hospice ( a group of talented women makes quilts for Veterans and Hospice patients). I waited in the hallway and the caregiver said that I could go in and talk to her but music would be too much. I gave a nod and placed my violin case on the floor. I walked in the room and heard the oxygen machine pumping air into her lungs. She stretched her arm straight into the air as if she were grasping for something. She was in pain and agony. Her brows furrowed and body clenched. The caregiver came in and said she had administered morphine but it barely had an effect. I laid the quilt gently across her body and as I thought of what to say.

“Thank you for listening. Thank you for smiling when we met. I’m thankful I was able to play for you the first time.”

Shortly after, the nurse arrived and we chatted in the hallway. She said the patient was agitated and wanting to pass but couldn’t. The caregiver then said that playing classical music on the radio the day before was too much so she had turned it off. She also shared that the patient had told her earlier that she didn’t want to be here anymore and wanted to go. She was ready to die.

I left the house and was met with a deafening silence. All I could do at that moment was stand still and accept that I had said goodbye. I felt humbled yet sad. I’m thankful I could see her one last time and hope she finds rest soon.

Violin and Yoga for Men in Jail

“Is that a Strad?” I couldn’t help but laugh after one of the inmates asked. “No no, I would probably need some bodyguards if this were a Stradivarius…it’s over a million dollars.” “Oh? Yea I wouldn’t bring that in here either. That’s expensive man. What are you doing here?” I told him I was here with my friend to provide music as she gave the yoga class. We continued to chat for a bit by one of the security checkpoints but he walked away when one of the guards returned to the post.

Jennifer Road Detention Center (JRDC) is a maximum security intake and pretrial detention facility in Maryland. Some of the inmates there have serious charges and at first glance be the last person you’d expect to attend a yoga class. When I walk into the facility, a guard checks my case before I take out my violin and bow to head to the next checkpoint. They keep my case in the office for per policy and security measures.

Navigating through the facility can be a bit of a maze and the constant noise reverbing off the walls and floors only adds to the chaos. I walked by one section and heard inmates shouting at one another behind bars. Another inmate grunted while he did Triceps dips off the side of the lower bunk bed. Another had accidentally dropped empty plates on the floor when the cart carrying them ran over something on the floor. The fact that I was able to walk the halls with my violin and bow with my friend was a huge accomplishment and victory.

Initially, we had a hard time getting access to bring the unique combination of violin and yoga to the men in the facility. Di, my friend and yoga instructor, has led classes for years for the women at the facility but received push back when it came to the men. She was told they either didn’t need nor deserve that kind of amenity. She persisted and eventually was able to hold a class for the men.

Over the fall, we held out first violin/yoga class for the men and a total of 1 person showed. Apparently, over 65 men signed up and we would have to split the sessions over time yet 1 person came. The guard told us that all the other inmates declined to come. We didn’t believe him but we were in no place to protest. The inmate, however, was so kind and tried some of the harder poses. He said he was glad he came because it gave him something to do and a break from all the chaos.

The next class we held weeks later was magical. We had 9 men show for class and they were all open to trying different poses. One guy was determined to perfect the handstand and laughed each time he fell over. Eventually, he got it and we cheered for him. For me, I felt proud and humbled to be able to supplement the class and atmosphere with my violin.

I noticed how some struggled during the meditation portion of the class. I played softly with warmth as the sound scattered in the hollow room. I watched as some of the inmates seemed uncomfortable being still as if they couldn’t trust anyone or whatever was around them. Others seemingly lulled into a time of reflection and let go.

“Can you please come back next week?” one of the inmates asked. “It’s out of our control,” Di replied. “We volunteer our time but can only hold classes depending on the facility schedule and people in charge of deciding activities. My hope is that you take what you’ve learned today and teach your peers here. I also hope that when you’re released you come to my studio so I can give you the techniques and tools you need to reach those in troubled spaces whether it be in jails or broken communities.”

I stood and watched as the men asked questions about yoga and shared how it helped them feel balanced. These were guys who at first glance would be the last person you’d expect to be in the class yet during the session, smiled and really tried.

I love going to play and thankful I can share music for people who have yes committed crimes yet have the opportunity to make a positive impact in a broken place.

What A Friend We Have In Jesus

“She hasn’t eaten or had anything to drink in over two weeks..she just won’t take it. We tried watering her lips but the nurse said it won’t be enough. She hasn’t shown any motion nor moved in over a week. You don’t have to come..I’m not sure how much longer she has.”

I didn’t hesitate in telling the patient’s husband that I would be there to play for his wife..how could I not go?

I remember the first visit, everyone in the house seemed excited yet uncertain of how she would respond. She hadn’t been doing too well then but her family managed to sit her in one of the living room chairs while her husband sat by her side. During the music, her family sang along as I played some of her favorite hymns. I remember the husband offering me freshly baked cookies as I made my way out their home. With a mouth full of a chocolate chip cookie, I managed to say thank you and that I’d be back again.

When I walked into the living room, the patient lay still in her bed with her eyes closed. Her husband was distraught and said he was uncertain of how much longer she had. He walked over to the bedside of his wife and told her that I came back to play more music. Her sister rose from the chair by the bed and said she was glad she could finally meet me. She wasn’t able to visit the first time I had played due to work.

I took a deep breath and started with hymns. After each song, the husband and sister initiated a conversation and shared more about the patient’s life. I learned about her passion for music and love for God. They said she loved What A Friend We Have In Jesus. I smiled and after the first time through the hymn, the sister let out a sudden gasp. I nearly stopped but softened my tone. “She’s squeezing my hand! It’s so light but she’s squeezing my hand!” I couldn’t believe it. “She hears it," her husband said. “She hears the music.”

Once I finished playing, the husband said I called at the perfect time earlier. He said I called immediately after he had gotten off the phone with the nurse to review his wife’s condition. “It’s all God,” he said. I thanked them both for allowing me to play and said I was amazed that she squeezed their hands. I said I was thankful his wife could hear me play too. As I walked to my car, I turned to the house and couldn’t believe what had just happened. I thanked God for using me to play and reach her.

She died the next day.

A missed call? I listened to the voicemail and immediately recognized the voice. The patient’s sister asked if I could play for the funeral and was hoping I could play What A Friend We Have In Jesus. I called her back and said, of course, I’d play and any other hymns her sister enjoyed.

The day of the funeral came and I kept reflecting on the times I played for the patient. I kept thinking about how she squeezed their hands after not moving for over a week.

As I walked to the front of the church, a gentleman hurriedly approached me. “Young man, I just wanted to say thank you for playing for my Momma. It means the world to me and our family.” Wow. I met more of her family and church family, they all had heard about what happened the last time I played for her. I was continually amazed by the kindness exuded by her family and friends.

During the service, the sister stood by the podium and shared with everyone what happened the last time I played. She told them how she couldn’t believe her sister squeezed her hand after not moving an inch for over a week. She told everyone about what I did for her sister and for others like her. I thanked God as the time came in the service for me to play What A Friend We Have In Jesus once more in memory of the patient.

"I just want to go home"

I remember one of the first times I went to play in a nursing home on the Alzheimer/Dementia Unit and one of the residents repeatedly said, “I want to go home. I want to go home.” In time, I would ask residents where home was and received a mixed response. Sometimes I was greeted with a story about their past and other times, residents appeared confused while continuing to say they wanted to go home. Last week, however, was different.

I walked into the room of the Hospice patient and the caregiver said the patient had been awake all night unable to sleep. Before setting my violin down, I watched the patient toss and turn in the bed wondering who was there. Hearing the exasperation and exhaustion in her voice, I walked over and told her I’m back to play the violin for her. She said she was up all night and hoped the music would put her to sleep. I told her I’d try my best.

I played Moon River and she began to sing along. She tried to sit up in her bed but couldn’t so she looked up towards the ceiling while she sang. After the song, she asked if I could play softer. I played closer to the fingerboard and turned my bow so I used less hair. I tried to play as sweetly as possible and hoped she’d find rest. Although she tossed and turned in her bed she said, “I always enjoyed your music…I want to go home...I don’t like this place.” I almost asked where her home was but before I could she said, “I’m ready to go whenever God is.”

I didn’t know what to say except that I would come back again to play. She then said, “hopefully I’m not here anymore. I’m ready to go whenever God is.”

Last Embrace

I thought she had more time. I really did. I stared at my phone in disbelief after reading the patient death and discharge update. Permanently etched into my memory is the time I played Disney songs as the mother embraced her child sobbing and apologizing. “She’s not feeling herself today. Normally she’d talk and sing but not today.” As I played You Are My Sunshine, the mother sang sweetly into her daughter’s ear on the sofa. I fought back tears as I played. I saw the grace and love the mother gave her daughter as she sang through her tears.

Two weeks after the first visit, I ran into the case manager during the Hospice kids memorial event. “The mom has had a hard time showing emotion since her daughter became sick so it’s amazing she responded the way she did” said the case manager. I kept replaying the visit over and over in my head while she talked. Should I go back? Was the music too much? I wondered but still asked the case manager if she could ask the mother about another visit. I made a point to visit again after getting feedback from the case manager and set up a time for the next week. I prepared more Disney songs and music the mother said her daughter enjoyed. The morning of the next visit, the mother needed to reschedule. She said her daughter wasn’t feeling well. I said I’d be available when she’s doing better and thanked her for allowing me to play the first time. Days later, the daughter passed away.

I tossed my phone on the kitchen counter and clenched my fists. I yelled damn it loud enough to startle Emily. I thought she had more time. She was just a child.

I still replay the visit in my head. I’m motivated to be a better musician and human being for the families of Hospice during the time I have with them. I’m in awe of their strength to care their loved ones as they watch them transition and hope the music makes a positive lasting impact.

Encouragement

"I know she really appreciates the music...Thank you so much for coming" said the patient's roommate. I continued the music with 'How Great Thou Art' and after the first verse, I heard a soft voice sing along as I played. I looked around the room, the patient remained asleep and the roommate watched peacefully from her bed. There was a woman lingering by the doorway in her wheelchair. She smiled at me and continued to sing while I wondered how long she had been there. 

After the music, the roommate said that she always enjoyed listening to the violin and hoped I would return soon. I packed up my belongings and had in mind to talk to the Activities Director. I didn't see the woman in the wheelchair from before. To my surprise, the facility hired a new Activities Director and we struck up a conversation. Meanwhile, the woman in the wheelchair casually strolled by. We wrapped up the conversation and I headed towards the exit. My mind raced as I thought about the next patient, performances, scales and music to practice, laundry that's been sitting in the dryer for days, a messy car..."excuse me" I turned and saw the woman in the wheelchair. She reached for a paper that she dropped on the floor. I rushed over and handed her the paper, she stretched out her hand and I took hold. "Thank you for the beautiful music. You have such a gift." Before I could reply, she bowed her head and began praying. I couldn't make out the words but I stood still and listened. I didn't let go of her hand until she was ready. "Amen. Thank you for the music. You're doing great work." 

I thought about that moment throughout the week and I believe our encounter is how I remembered to put aside my ego, weariness, unwillingness, and lean on God. The following day, I played at a funeral for a Hospice patient. She was 104 and loved music. The next day I gave a performance at a new Assisted Living Facility when all I wanted to do was put my violin down and sit on a bench. I'm still processing music sessions and trying to play for as many people as possible. Trying to be sure I'm practicing repertoire for lessons with my teacher or music upcoming performances. She's an amazing teacher and I don't want to waste the time I have with her. 

Yesterday, I went to play for a patient and I didn't want to. I honestly needed a break to process experiences from earlier in the week but I knew how ecstatic the family was since the first time I played for the patient. They strongly expressed joy during the music and it reminded me of church during my childhood. I felt uncomfortable. I wondered why and I knew it was because of my ego. I liked things a certain way and volume. I remembered the woman in the wheelchair so I played hymns. I knew the patient enjoyed hymns and the response was unexpected. The family and staff began sobbing tears of joy. I kept playing even when I wanted to stop. I was emotionally taxed. I kept going because that time and space wasn't for me. I wanted to go home but I kept playing. The staff at the assisted living facility where the patient resided began to cry and call out to God. I really wanted to stop but I kept playing because if it weren't because of God's grace, I would have quit violin years ago. 

This week isn't over. I have a lesson with my teacher to keep preparing for, performances, and music sessions to continually unpack in my mind. I'll never forget what the daughter of the patient told me at the funeral. "I hope our paths cross again." I'm sure they will. I am grateful I could play for her mom one last time and thankful the music had a positive impact. I know this journey isn't about me. I'm not trying to prove I'm awesome. I'm just trying my best and often times come short yet even still, I'm given grace that helps me play for others despite wanting to sit and stare into nothing. 

 

 

Music for a Violinist's last days.

As I drove to play for a new patient for Hospice, I felt something whisper, " Go see him." I sighed and began to wonder if I should just stick with what I had planned for the day or turn my car around. I was determined to stick to the fabricated timeline in my head yet I continued to feel a sense of urgency to see the Hospice patient who has played the violin since he was 8. 

I arrived at the entrance of the Assisted-Living facility to play for a new Hospice patient while continuing to wrestle with my thoughts. Should I see the patient who has played the violin since his childhood after this session or prioritize seeing newer patients? It's difficult to play for everyone when I'm allotted a certain amount of therapeutic music session hours per month due to budgeting and a growing list of people to visit and share music. I sighed again as I took out my phone. I felt another whisper, "Call." Okay okay but I saw him a week ago, I said in my head. "Call." My shoulders tensed from my indecisiveness and my violin grew heavier by the second. I walked over to a bench so staff inside the facility didn't come out wondering why a guy carrying a Captain America shield and musical instrument kept pacing back and forth at the entrance. Finally, I decided to call the patient's son. "Hello? Hi, my name is Alexander and I'm the violinist... "Yes hi thank you for calling", he replied. "My Father hasn't been doing well. I spent all weekend with him thinking that he would pass away but Dad is taking his time going to Heaven." I took a deep breath before asking, "I was wondering if I could return today to play for your Dad?" "Yes, please call the main line if I'm not there so the caregiver can let you in." I hung up thinking if I made the right decision. I know it's my job and thankfully families have appreciated the music but I always worry about intruding. 

  After the first session, I returned to my car to make my way to see the violin hospice patient. The steady breeze kindled the anxiety I felt welling inside as I approached the condominium where the patient resided. After the caregiver granted me access to the building via intercom, I quickly made my way inside to the elevator. As I rode the elevator up to his floor,  I couldn't shake a sense of urgency. Perhaps I was just anxious to see the patient? "It's open," the caregiver said. "Hi, I'm from Hos..."  "Yes, I know. He's in the other room." I was scared. I wasn't sure what to expect.

Last week, the patient was happy to hear that a violinist had come to play for him. He told me about the repertoire he used to perform and his fondness for Kreutzer Etudes.  He had also wanted to play the violin once more, so I helped him hold my violin so he could bow the open strings while he laid in bed. 

When I walked into the room, the patient let out a low moan as he shuffled from side to side in his bed. I debated leaving the room and telling the caregiver that this wasn't a good time, but I probably wouldn't have another chance. I took my violin out the case and began to play slow legato notes to see if he'd react to the music. He became still while his breathing remained sporadic and arrhythmical. I paused when he stretched out his legs and began to moan again. Was I making things worse? I told myself I would play for a few more minutes and leave. As I played again, the patient stopped moving. A few seconds went by and he hadn't taken a breath. I placed my violin by my side and waited. I kept counting, waiting for him to breathe again. I felt scared and cold, did he transition? I began to move to notify the caregiver outside the room until I saw the patient inhale and move again. 

The rest of my time with the patient remained unchanged. He would take a breath and after a few moments, breathe again. I couldn't believe the difference in a week's time. We were laughing and discussing works by classical composers, but today all I could do was hope he heard the music.

As I exited the room, the caregiver thanked me for the music and asked if I played gospel. "Yes??" Random I thought. She invited me to play for a church event that she was organizing. She seemed excited about the possibility of me playing and encouraged me to continue doing what I was doing before I left the condo. 

I sat in silence for a few minutes after I got into the car. I couldn't help but wonder if I could have done anything differently. I questioned how much time I'd have to play the violin in life.

I still do. Everyday. I want to make every time I play matter. To make a difference, because being able to play is a living example of God's grace that I don't want to waste. 

"I used to play the violin"

I've heard that phrase countless times during my journey as a violinist. Someone will see my violin case featuring the giant Batman symbol and inquire which instrument I play. Upon responding, a story follows, and I listen as the person shares their connection with music. The person will often say "I used to play in elementary (middle and/or high) school and then gave up." One day I decided to joke with one of the audience members after a concert and said, "well it's a hard and expensive instrument and honestly some days I don't want to play either." Thankfully they laughed instead of a potentially awkward silence. 

Recently,  I received an inquiry to play for a Hospice patient in his 90s who has played the violin since he was 8 and needed to contact the family as soon as possible. I spoke with the patient's son and he seemed elated to hear that a violinist wanted to play for his Dad. He shared that Hospice told him that they would do their best to find a violinist, but he didn't think it would happen. "A violinist to come play for my Dad? That'll take a long time" he said over the phone. The son then began to tell me a bit more about his Dad. "He used to play in nursing homes, give recitals, and honestly I'm not sure what else. I couldn't keep track of all he did." Before ending the phone call, he said his Dad enjoyed classical music and loved violin music.

I arrived at the patient's home and the son answered the door. He seemed surprised upon seeing me and quickly ushered me into his father's room. As we crossed the living room, he shared how happy he was that I came to play. "Dad. This is Alex, the violinist from Hospice. He's come to play for you" he said.  His father laid in bed and slowly began to turn his head in our direction. "A violinist? I love the violin. Nice to meet you!" His voice sounded raspy and parched yet energized with anticipation. As I began to unpack my violin, the son echoed our phone conversation and shared that he didn't expect Hospice to find a violinist.  He then began to talk about his "black" neighbor's granddaughter who also plays the violin. I couldn't help but laugh. Now I know why he seemed surprised when he first saw me.  I felt at ease as he passionately shared his love of music and history of his father's violin. He told me the luthier was black and that his father's violins were made in 1926 and 1928. He also offered to show me after I finished. 

The son briefly left the room to call his neighbor to see if she could come over and listen as well since her granddaughter plays but she was not available. "It's been a long time but I want to try" the patient said. "Hm?" I wasn't sure what he meant until he extended his right hand in my direction. I got down on my knees because of the height of the bed and handed him my violin, watching as he slowly lifted the instrument toward his neck. Next, I gave him my bow and with ease his fingers formed a sturdy bow hold. I stood witness and watched as he bowed legato strokes on the E string. His eyes widened, and smile formed, as he showed determination to play once more. He began to lose the ability to hold the violin himself so I knelt by and held the violin so he could continue. "He can't do it" his son said as he returned into the room. "No, I'm going to help" I replied. We both quietly watched as his Dad played the open strings of the violin. 

After playing he said, "I love the violin."  The patient then gushed about his fondness of etudes so I began to play the Kreutzer etudes. As I played, he asked me if I belonged to an orchestra and traveled abroad. Not wanting to stop, I channeled my inner Celtic Woman and shared my experiences as a violinist while managing to keep the music going. Shortly after, he said he was tired and wanted to rest. I thanked him for allowing me to play and next time I would bring Bach and Mozart for him. 

Once I left the room, the son showed me his father's violins. Both lived in glass cases mounted on the wall for display nearby a music themed canvas. The son thanked me again for visiting and shared how much it meant that someone came to play some of his Dad's favorite music. 

When I got back into my car, I shut the door and sat in silence. I thought how grateful I was to be able to spend time playing for the patient and watch as he played the violin again. I sighed and felt my eyes water. Would that be me some day? How much longer do I have to play the violin? Those thoughts, permeating the drive home, but I still felt grateful. I was there to be a part of such an endearing moment and thankful the music made a positive impact on a well aged fiddler. 

 

"Alright Kid"

I wasn't sure what went wrong. In fact, I still don't. I stood in the parking lot of the jail with the Yoga instructor wondering why we couldn't play for the women. I wrestled with feelings of disbelief as I combed through the email correspondence confirming that we would hold the yoga/violin class. I held my phone in my hands. Yes, here it is. We're to give the class on April 12th...but the email didn't matter. 

A few minutes prior, I forced a deep breath as the women working the front desk said she couldn't find the paperwork about the yoga/violin class. "I recognize you from before and know what you're here for, but I don't have the authority to let you in the unit without the paperwork..." "Does control have the class list or anything indicating that we're holding the class tonight?" I replied in haste. As she dialed the control station's number, I silently prayed they would have what we needed. "You don't have it? Okay, thank you. Sorry, I can't let you in." 

I moved aside and tried to think of something but I couldn't. All I could do was simply tell the yoga instructor that nothing could be done. We did everything on our part to schedule in advance and arrive on time. We even had confirmation from the facility's coordinator.

I walked outside feeling defeated. I kept thinking about the time an inmate told me she hadn't felt peace since being admitted to the jail and that she would be able to sleep well. Another inmate wondered when we would be back. Another hoped we'd come again soon. I could hear their laughter in my head as if it had just happened. 

I told the instructor, my friend, that I wanted our class to have a ripple effect. To make a big impact. She asked if I had watched the 60 minutes special about the difference yoga made in jails. She said what we do is unheard of and magical with the music. 

She's right. What we do in jail is special. Although we face much administration pushback, people continue to say they love what we do. I told her that I want this to grow. I want to do anonymous interviews and create a story. I want more people to know and be inspired. With a smile, she said, "Well alright kid. You let me know how I can help."

Not everyone gets the chance

"You can play...but I can't." I placed my violin by my side and watched as the Hospice patient struggled to position himself upright in his bed. I wasn't sure why he said that but I gave him my full attention. His finger shook as he pointed to me and repeated: "You can play....but I can't." 

I thought about that moment as I watched my dear friend Emmanuel walk onto the stage to premiere “Yoshiyahu” for violin and orchestra with the Susquehanna Symphony Orchestra. I thought to myself, how many people get to premiere a Violin Concerto? How many people get to play the violin? 

I remember working at a violin shop and watching parents bring their kids to acquire a rental instrument. Some parents were so excited to see the half-sized violin (or smaller) in the hands of their children until they saw the bill. "Do I get my money back if I purchase the insurance?" I've heard a customer ask. I had not yet introduced shoulder rests, tuners or music stands to add to the bill. I always shared the importance of supplies and equipment for the violin and I was met with similar combativeness as a Gamestop employee selling a PowerUp rewards card and DLC might experience. 

During the time I used to teach violin privately, I realized that most parents of my students didn't understand that playing the violin costs more than money flowing from their wallets. Some of the best musicians had parents who sat with them during lessons and took notes. Parents who made sure practice time was a daily part of their child's lifestyle. Parents who sacrificed countless hours driving to lessons, concerts, music stores for supplies, fixing a popped string, driving to school to retrieve a forgotten instrument, budgeting for a lesson or competition or music camp. 

When  Emmanuel began the concerto, I saw the dedication and commitment his parents, family, friends, and colleagues sacrificed so that he could have the choice to perform at a professional caliber. I watched as parents and children in the audience turned to one another in excitement and awe. An older gentleman sitting in the row ahead of me smiled and nodded his head in approval. A mother sitting in the same row pointed at Emmanuel during a cadenza, wanting her daughter to pay attention. I couldn't help but feel proud because playing the violin is hard as hell and watched my friend go Super Saiyan on stage. 

I wondered at the time if people knew how difficult it is to play the violin. I struggle every day regardless of repertoire due to the amount I play for Hospice. I wrestle with strains from pinched nerves and tension from years of poor posture. Although significantly better, I play by the bedsides of Hospice patients or in Jails for inmates. I'm emotionally taxed after each session but I see in real time how the music can release positive emotions and bring peace to families or inmates. To see Emmanuel glide through the cadenzas seemed inhuman. Do people realize how physically exhausting it is to play hundreds if not thousands of notes all while your Fitbit tracker step count remains unchanged? Maybe the number increases by a few steps but your calorie count most likely stays the same.

Emmanuel asked me prior to the concert to write something about the experience and I had no idea. I thought perhaps I could ask him why he played the violin but by the end of the concert, I realized that I didn't need to ask. I saw his family and friends by the front of the stage chatting and waiting for him to come out of the green room. I felt the excitement and energy in their conversation from his playing. I could see that they were inspired by the boldness and love that Emmanuel poured into the music. 

I didn't know what to say to the Hospice patient when he said that I could play but that he couldn't. Not everyone can afford the lessons or invest the time. Some aren't blessed to have the support system or in a place to have skilled teachers. I remember the Hospice patient saying how much he enjoyed the music and that it was really really good. I left the Therapeutic Music session thankful to be able to play the violin the way I do and thankful for continual growth. I'm grateful Emmanuel took the opportunity to premiere a Violin Concerto and in doing so, inspired countless individuals through his love being a Violinist. 

 

 

"Will you come back?"

"Captain America, What can I do for you?" Said the receptionist sitting at the front desk of the assisted living facility. "Yes! Oh, I also have Batman on my back!

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I'm a Music Practitioner from Hospice and I'm here to play the violin for one of our patients." "Is that so? Well, she's here in the common area if you don't mind playing in an open space." I followed the receptionist, anxiously wanting to see the patient. I had not met her before nor did I know what kind of mood she'd be in.

The receptionist gave me a kind introduction to the patient, saying that I was here to play the violin for her. I greeted her with a warm smile and said, "you can sing along, clap your hands, or fall asleep. This music is for you." As she sat in her wheelchair clutching her newspaper, she looked up and said, "I suppose I'll dance then." She laughed at the puzzled expression on my face and said that she was just joking. Her sense of humor put me at ease as I took my violin out of the case and began tuning. When I finished tuning, I noticed that residents in the nearby lobby had positioned their wheelchairs in my direction. I started to get excited and couldn't help but feel that the music would be special not just for the patient but for everyone. 

I began with She'll Be Coming 'Round The Mountain and watched as the patient marched in place from her chair. She continued on by clapping her hands and singing along. I noticed staff wheel residents into the room as they sang to the music too. Residents were drawn in and chose to interact with the music. Prior to the music, I saw residents slouched in their chairs looking into the floor, but now, I could see their eyes lit with joy. 

As the music continued, staff walked by appearing curious at first yet linger to sing and clap their hands with residents. I saw people come out of their offices to listen for a few moments before going back to their work.

When I finished, I thanked the patient for allowing me to play and began to pack up my violin. She smiled from her chair and asked, Will you come back?" I paused and at that moment I thought about the time I spent in Japan playing the violin. I remember standing before the congregation of Matsumoto Abundant Life Church in Japan four years ago being asked if I would come back. Without hesitation, I said yes. I remember on my last day standing in the parking lot of Azumino Family Chapel  Church preparing to depart to the airport. I tried my best but I couldn't hold back tears as I hugged the children goodbye and thanked everyone for the hospitality. From the back of the airport shuttle, I cried but resolved that I would return to see everyone again and play the violin.

"Of course I'll be back," I said to the patient. "Good. I look forward to hearing you again." 

 

 

"Will you come back?"

"Captain America, What can I do for you?" Said the receptionist sitting at the front desk of the assisted living facility. "Yes! Oh, I also have Batman on my back!

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I'm a Music Practitioner from Hospice and I'm here to play the violin for one of our patients." "Is that so? Well, she's here in the common area if you don't mind playing in an open space." I followed the receptionist, anxiously wanting to see the patient. I had not met her before nor did I know what kind of mood she'd be in.

The receptionist gave me a kind introduction to the patient, saying that I was here to play the violin for her. I greeted her with a warm smile and said, "you can sing along, clap your hands, or fall asleep. This music is for you." As she sat in her wheelchair clutching her newspaper, she looked up and said, "I suppose I'll dance then." She laughed at the puzzled expression on my face and said that she was just joking. Her sense of humor put me at ease as I took my violin out of the case and began tuning. When I finished tuning, I noticed that residents in the nearby lobby had positioned their wheelchairs in my direction. I started to get excited and couldn't help but feel that the music would be special not just for the patient but for everyone. 

I began with She'll Be Coming 'Round The Mountain and watched as the patient marched in place from her chair. She continued on by clapping her hands and singing along. I noticed staff wheel residents into the room as they sang to the music too. Residents were drawn in and chose to interact with the music. Prior to the music, I saw residents slouched in their chairs looking into the floor, but now, I could see their eyes lit with joy. 

As the music continued, staff walked by appearing curious at first yet linger to sing and clap their hands with residents. I saw people come out of their offices to listen for a few moments before going back to their work.

When I finished, I thanked the patient for allowing me to play and began to pack up my violin. She smiled from her chair and asked, Will you come back?" I paused and at that moment I thought about the time I spent in Japan playing the violin. I remember standing before the congregation of Matsumoto Abundant Life Church in Japan four years ago being asked if I would come back. Without hesitation, I said yes. I remember on my last day standing in the parking lot of Azumino Family Chapel  Church preparing to depart to the airport. I tried my best but I couldn't hold back tears as I hugged the children goodbye and thanked everyone for the hospitality. From the back of the airport shuttle, I cried but resolved that I would return to see everyone again and play the violin.

"Of course I'll be back," I said to the patient. "Good. I look forward to hearing you again." 

Thank you to those who read my experiences playing the violin for others. I'm grateful for the responses and continual encouragement. On May 7th I will fly to Japan and serve as an arts missionary where I will be playing the violin in the same areas I did four years ago. I can't wait to use music to make a difference and help build community. I hope the music impacts people the way it does for those I play for here. I, however, need your help. Going to Japan and striving to make a positive impact wouldn't be possible without you. If you'd like to donate towards my missions trip then please click on the link below! To get to Japan I do need
funds by April 16!


Total needs: $2,954.50


Mail: Checks made payable to TEAM with my name on the memo line (Alexander Strachan) and
sent to PO Box 1986 Grapevine, TX 76099-1986
Online: By credit card you can go to TEAM’s website at team.org, select the ‘Give Now’ under
the ‘Give’ tab in the upper right hand corner and then search my name (Alexander Strachan).

You may also go to this link: 

https://team.org/givenow/us/project-details?v2pid=131608


Phone: By credit card you can call 1-800- 343-3144

Thank you for reading and please share! 

 

"I've never heard that on the violin before."

"There aren't too many people who play the violin who look like us. I'm always proud when people our color do something good with their talent."

Today I went to play for a new Hospice patient in their home. As I approached the home, I noticed multiple oxygen tanks sitting in the back seat of a car parked in the driveway. I directed my gaze to the front door and saw a sign that read "Oxygen in use. No smoking or lit candles." I took a deep breath and knocked on the door. I began to wonder how the family would respond to the music. Would the patient be awake? Would I make a difference?

An elderly gentleman greeted me with a soft smile yet puzzled expression on his face. I reminded him that I was a Music Practitioner for Hospice and here to play the violin for his wife. "Oh, well come on in!" He guided me up the stairs and told his wife the violinist from Hospice was here to visit and play. As I ascended the stairwell, I noticed his wife sitting on the couch with a towel over her head while she received her oxygen. I said hello yet she remained in her own space. I thought perhaps she hadn't heard me over the sound of the oxygen concentrator and after saying hello once more she turned her attention to my direction.

The husband shared that he and his wife both loved music and had friends from church over earlier in the afternoon. With a smile, I announced the first song would be "Blessed Assurance." The husband seemed elated as he sat down next to his wife and hummed the chorus of the hymn. As I played the hymn, the wife reached for the blanket nearby and began to pick the material. She reminded me of grandmother. I would watch as my grandmother, coping with Alzheimer's, fidget with any nearby object while communicating with life inside her own world. It breaks my heart to see her that way. Sometimes music brings her back to me, to the present. Other times, she's far away even though she's right next to me.

I watched as the patient continued to pick at the fabric of the blanket while her husband closed his eyes and sang along. When I finished, the husband said, "that was excellent! You know what? I've never heard that song played on the violin before...I've always loved music. When I was young, going to church was our only recreational activity. We had limited options. Either work in the fields picking cotton or go to church. I'm always proud when people our color do something good with their talent."

I smiled at the time but his words slowly unfolded in my spirit as the session went on. During each song, his wife would reach for another object to interact with while the husband sang. He seemed so joyful, even while she stared into space fidgeting with the blanket. Before the final song of the session, he said, "Son, things happen in life and it is what it is." Wait, What? Where did that come from? He paused and said, "my wife and I really really enjoyed the music. We appreciate you traveling all this way to come and play for us. Thank you."

After the session, the husband walked with me outside. He said he wanted Hospice to know how much he enjoyed the music. How meaningful and soothing it was. He shared he appreciated that I took time out of the day to play music for his wife.

Before I got into my car, he reminded me how proud he felt that he saw someone who looked like him doing something good with their gift.

Beauty in the Blue Danube

"Someone take me back to my room. I don't want to be here anymore. Someone take me back to my room.I don't want to be here anymore. Someone..." A resident in the memory care unit repeated this over and over from her wheelchair as I set up my equipment to play music for everyone. I thought perhaps she'd feel settled after I start playing the violin. I was wrong.

Recently, the residents communicated with the activity coordinator that they wanted to hear different music besides the standard sing-alongs and folk tunes that I've played each week I visit the facility. I thought to introduce new pieces so I began with Pachelbel's Canon in D. Some of the residents smiled from their wheelchairs but the one resident continued to repeat that she wanted to go to her room. By the end of the song, she had turned her wheelchair away from everyone else and positioned the chair in the direction of the elevator.

I didn't set out to get the resident to stay for music and figured one of the nurses or aides would take her back to her room but something magical happened during the next song... I spoke of the whimsical character and sense of awe I felt when playing the Blue Danube Waltz. I shared with the residents how much I enjoyed playing the piece due to its versatility and presence in commercials, cartoons, and movies.

When I reached the main theme, the resident paused and turned her head and moved her wheelchair towards my direction. Her face softened as she closed her eyes and gracefully raised her arms in the air. She proceeded to move with the music as if someone had placed a conductor's baton in her hand. I watched in awe as she smiled and continued to conduct as I played the waltz.

After the end of the song, she exclaimed, "Bravo!" I couldn't help but feel grateful because the music created something so powerful and transformative.

Once the last song ended, the resident said thank you and asked when I was coming back. She also said I did a beautiful job and loved the music. I told her I would return next week and thanked her for staying. I left the facility and thought...hm. Perhaps there is beauty in the blue Danube.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lkzWF1UE1CI

Music at the Library

As I packed up my violin to head out to the library, my mother was on the phone with a friend talking about the importance of exposing children to different cultures and art. I chuckled to myself because I know I was inspired by the countless concerts at the Kennedy Center and artists that I've met in my life.

Today I had the opportunity to give a mini violin recital for Black History month at the local library. I set up my equipment in front of the fireplace and sat down in a chair to pray before the coordinator made an announcement about the concert. I prayed that the music would show God's grace and that I humbled myself before others. I also prayed that the music would inspire someone and make a difference in their life. Minutes later, the coordinator made the announcement on the overhead intercoms and people slowly gravitated towards the fireplace. 

I remember how still and quiet it felt in the area. I could hear the heat wafting throughout the air and sound of clicking as people used their computers. I was stationed in a room where there was meant to be a respectful sense of quiet yet in a few minutes I would fill the space with music...

A little girl sat with her father on the couch in front of me. She appeared 5 or 6 in age and seemed eager to hear me play. She said, "it's the "biolin," as she pronounced it without the v. I couldn't help but laugh because it sounded similar to the Japanese pronunciation of violin. My words echoed in the space as I spoke of the history of negro spirituals and their impact. I took a deep breath and began with Amazing Grace. The music had a strange effect in that space. People stopped typing, put their books down, turned away from their computers, and listened. People standing by the couches near the fireplace or across the room tucked away in a corner began to watch with anticipation. I noticed others take out their cellphones to record as they smiled. Some began to walk towards the fireplace with their children and point. I remember finishing the song and hearing applause from different directions and floors in the library. 

I remember feeling at ease because people weren't annoyed by the music. They wanted to hear the history and be a part of the experience. I could hear some sing along as I played When The Saints Go Marching In and Joy to the World. One person, however, got my attention. I saw the same little girl from before clap her hands and yell "YAYYYYYY!" 

After the concert, the coordinator said she was glad I came to play. She said I inspired others through my music and was so happy to see others enjoy themselves. She mentioned the little girl and how awesome it was to see her response to the music.

I love playing in the community because I can make a huge impact. I simply tell people who I am and share music the way God has gifted me so. 

Music in Hospice

I write about my experiences in Hospice because I'm always humbled when I play for patients and families. Yesterday, I went to the main facility to play for inpatient residents. One of the nurses told me that one gentleman, in particular, would enjoy the music so I made his room my first stop. I remember walking in and seeing him turn to me and smile. He seemed so calm and I began to wonder piece I should play first. I started with When The Saints Go Marching by beginning with a Major 6th interval, E on the D string and C# on the A. I used the lower E as a pedal tone against the main melody. I thought the pedal tone could blend with the patient's demeanor and resonate well with the room's acoustics.

I remember the patient crying after I finished playing the song. He asked where I was from and where I played. I paused and rested the violin by my side. I could hear the tremble in his voice and feel fear. What caused the change? I stayed present and just talked with the patient. He told me how much he appreciated the music and how beautiful the violin sounded in the room. I smiled and played Somewhere Over the Rainbow. I could hear him mouth the words to the song so I let him guide the music. I extended time and let the music breathe as he needed.

After the music, I thanked him for allowing me to play. He, however, caught me off guard with what he said next. He told me to keep playing for others and that I was doing a good thing. Honestly, I've heard that from people in church and friends but it hit deep when he said it. I was a stranger to him yet despite his inevitable transition, he took the time to uplift me and make my day.

I had the opportunity to also play for another patient following the music session. One of the nurses walked ahead of me into the room asking the patient's husband if he would like to hear the violin. He asked how it worked and if they brought in a recording. He seemed shocked to see me walk into the room with a violin. I began with Edelweiss and watched the husband hold his wife's hand. He stood beside her bed and held her close. I grew scared because I thought she could transition any moment. I kept playing as he squeezed her hand and whispered in her ear. He sang to her as I played and I struggled to hold it together. I felt honored to be a part of the moment and continued to play the song. His wife opened her eyes and began to move her hand. She didn't speak but I felt it was time to give them space.

After I closed the door, I looked at the nurse and visibly exhaled. That was one of the most heartwrenching sessions I've had in awhile but I was thankful I could be of service.

Every week I play for Hospice patients and I grow increasingly grateful that I can use the violin to make a difference and hope I can continue.

Violin and Yoga in Jail 2018

I wish you could hear the violin as the open strings resonate throughout the cell unit. To watch the ladies in the jail gleefully sit on their yoga mats and prepare for a special time of music and movement.

Last year, I had this idea of combining live music and yoga together. I did for a few sessions with the gym instructors but one day passed by a jail and felt this calling to bring music to inmates. After a few phone calls and visits, I had my first chance to give a concert for inmates in a gymnasium. I played music ranging from sing-along tunes to classical. Some of the inmates shared that they had never heard the violin live before and didn’t realize the variety of music you could play. Others sang along and as the concert went on I wasn’t fazed by the jumpsuits or security guards walking throughout the room. I announced song after song and stood on stage talking to the inmates as people in an audience. I said that the music was for them. I shared that I play for as many people as I can because of my grandmother’s battle with Alzheimer’s and seeing her smile whenever I play the violin for her. I told them that I hoped the music could do the same as it does for her.

After playing for my friend’s yoga class, I shared my experience giving a concert for the inmates in the jail. I said that it would be cool if we could bring a session for the inmates once during a holiday or special time out of the year. I thought about the moment when I heard one of the ladies tonight say to her friend that she should be excited about the session.

I have to be honest. Playing violin for the sessions in jail is one of the most taxing things I do. I play for nearly an hour trying to create music reflecting the movements, atmosphere, and doing my best to help create a safe space. What I’m gifted from God to do is awesome and I’m proud of that. I go into the jail with a mission to share music. I don’t get paid to do it and it takes a huge chunk out of my time and energy, but I believe it’s the right thing to do. I’m not expecting to get repaid. I had this idea and it seemed like a longshot, but I didn’t care. I wanted to try and tonight we had a full class. We may even have the chance to expand the sessions to different detention centers/jails in the area.

I know it’s not easy to go to a jail and share your time/talent. I share because people in jails are people too. Often forgotten like those in nursing homes. One of the cool things though is that the violin and yoga sessions have helped the ladies feel safe. I’m thankful I can make a difference using the violin and hope others feel encouraged to serve others in uncomfortable places using their talents.

Violin and Fitness

I'm an African American violinist and also really fit. I love lifting heavy weights and conditioning exercises. However, taking care of my body is how I can continue to play the violin for others. People have said I'm too buff to be a violinist. Too much muscle is harmful to your playing. I laugh because those people don't realize that lifting weights and strengthening my body enabled me to recover from the severe pain I experienced when playing the violin.

The more I embraced being a violinist, the more I began to share. I started posting videos of myself playing the violin, whether it was swinging upside down at the park or sharing helpful stretches. I felt that my work was pushing the envelope and thinking outside the box. I made videos to show my creativity yet determination to make an impact. One day I decided to create a video of myself playing violin upside down from the monkey bars. The next day, some random person called me a racial slur in the comment section of the video. I was livid that day yet further motivated to share. https://youtu.be/EjkcC3klH9o

I wanted to show the world my voice and hoped to inspire someone to feel comfortable being themselves. 

These photos represent me. They show that I'm comfortable in my own skin and that I am a violinist regardless of a person's perception of one.  I never imagined doing a photo shoot or looking this way ever. I hope someone is inspired to be themselves. Musicians come in all shapes, sizes, and skin color. Be encouraged and be yourself. Never give up and challenge yourself. Also, take care of your body and stretch! 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2O-WoYuQyQM

I'm a fit black violinist who uses music to help others. I also play in Jails for inmates, patients in Hospice and Hospitals, residents in Nursing Homes and Assisted-Living, and Church. So let's do our best as musicians to use our time and talents to make a positive impact in the community. 

Thank you for all the continued support and encouragement! You can view the rest of the photos from the following link: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1czbv7kROfZltavaLprWe7loq7vgAY4jF

Music in Hospice-A positive impact Pt. II

Yesterday, I experienced how music could create a positive and lasting impact in difficult moments. I am always grateful to be able to play the violin and share music with people. Today I was a part of a heart-wrenching time for a family in Hospice.

When I arrived to play for families in Hospice today, the nurse shared that a patient had passed away 30 minutes prior. I looked at the list and couldn't believe it. I had just played for the patient's family yesterday. They recorded me playing Somewhere Over the Rainbow so the wife could hear her favorite song when she arrived to visit. I immediately recalled the transformation in my relationship with the family after I played You Are My Sunshine. The nurse said that a family member went to pick up the patient's wife and that she was on her way to the facility. I left the nurse's station and set my violin case in the corridor before walking back towards the lobby.

In the lobby, I met the daughter-in-law and she told me that all of her family was waiting for their mother to arrive. Some were out in the parking lot while others were inside trying to stay warm. She thanked me for yesterday. For taking the time to play and that her mother-in-law was sad she missed the music. The son entered the building and gave a weary smile. He said no one has told his mother yet of the passing and that everyone wanted to wait until she arrived. He shared his mother would love to hear the music but understood if I couldn't stay. I simply replied and said I would wait however long I needed.

While I waited, I played for different patients and families. I felt grateful to hear patients express how much they appreciated the music. After I finished making rounds, I sat at the nurse's station taking notes and peered out the window to see if the mother had arrived. I walked back to the lobby and the son informed me that his mother was due to come any minute. I noticed one of the sons in the parking lot waving his brother to bring the wheelchair. The daughter-in-law requested that I give them some time as a family to prepare.

I sat at the nurse's station while the wife broke down in wails by her husband's room. She refused to enter and see him. As time passed, one of the nurses went to check on my behalf about hearing me play the violin. I didn't want to intrude and felt maybe music was the last thing they needed to hear. The nurse returned and said I had the green light to play. I walked over to my violin and asked God to give me guidance. I told myself that I'll play my best and let him take care of the rest. I tuned my violin once more and approached the family in the adjacent hallway. The son said thank you before I readied my violin to play Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

After the first phrase of the song, the wife released a loud cry and the daughter said, "maybe the music is too much for mom." The wife said, "no it's so beautiful." I continued playing and the wife said she wanted to go see him. The son slowly wheeled her into the room and she cried by the bed. I turned and the daughter-in-law smiled and gave me an approving nod. Family members one by one entered and exited the room. I remember the son smiling at me while comforting his mother. I let go of my insecurities of intruding their time and gave more sound to the music.

The wife left the room and said she loved the music and that her husband would have too. Different family members echoed her statement and thanked me for waiting with them.

I am always grateful to share music and continually amazed by the journey. I hope I can continue to make a positive impact and thank you all for reading.

Music in Hospice-A positive impact

Hospice was quite the experience today. I sometimes feel anxious before playing for families but oddly enough I felt calm. I pet the therapy dog for a few minutes and then began tuning my violin.

Earlier this morning, I had a conversation with a musician about the hardships of African American musicians here in America. Often times, the talent is there but we lack connections and opportunities to create a stable platform. We are judged before we share our talent and craft. Today in Hospice that happened to me.

I knocked and entered a room where the patient was in bed resting. The family members were scattered around the room so I made sure to greet myself to everyone. Once given permission to play, I noticed family members had their phones ready to record so I said anyone can record and share. A gentleman sitting in the corner gave me a strange look and replied, "well that depends on if you're good." I turned my attention to him and said, "you can be the judge." I readied my violin and started with You Are My Sunshine. Within the first phrase, different family members sang along and reached for tissues to dry their tears. I focused my attention on the patient and observed reactions around the room. I smiled at the patient's son and continued as the wife sang.

Once I finished, the son asked if I would still be around while his mother came to visit. He shared that she survived a stroke years ago and that his family was Hawaiian. I knew I was short on time so I offered to play one of their favorite songs Somewhere Over the Rainbow and that they could record. While I played the song, the gentleman from before took out his phone to record and seemed captivated by the music. He said "wow" after I played. He put his phone in his pocket and walked over to me and said "your music touches so many hearts. You have no idea the impact you have on the families here and people. Thank you." He gave me a hug and smiled.

I can't imagine what it feels like to have a loved one in Hospice. I do my best to return the grace extended to me by sharing my music and time. I love playing for people and saw transformation through music today. After I left the room, the family continued to play the recording of Somewhere Over the Rainbow over and over again while they waited for the mother to arrive.