Healing, through live music performances. Giving Music is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit charitable organization.
It’s too bad we don’t have a picture to show, because this is a story about a picture. And despite the stringent laws and rules about medical confidentiality in nursing homes, I doubt if the hero in this story would mind if we showed the picture in question. But we can’t, and after a career as a hospital social worker, I am forever tuned to follow those rules.
The Giving Music band had played a small nursing home in south Los Angeles, SOLA they call it now, with about 35 residents attending the performance. As usual, our singers went into the audience and encouraged residents to sing along. In the past we have discovered a lot of hidden talent, often professional entertainers that thought their stage life was over. Our job is to bring that memory back and let the talent show itself. We have had many successes with that.
At this SOLA facility, Clarence, our sax player, noticed a guy in a wheelchair mouthing the words to one of the songs. Clarence took the microphone out to the man and encouraged him to sing along. At first he was a little shy but then really got into it, belting out some fine blues. His smile told me this was a special moment for him and I was there to take pictures of it.
About a month later our band was playing a gig nearby the SOLA facility so I decided to use the opportunity to drop off the pictures I had taken. Clarence was with me.
When we pulled up to the curb in front of the nursing home Clarence had the pictures in his hand and as if by providence, the old singing bluesman was sitting in his wheelchair under the shade of a small tree.
“Look Clarence,” I said. “Isn’t that the guy you sang along with?”
“Yeah, it is. And look, his picture is right here on the top of the stack. It’s the one I was looking at.”
I got out of my truck and walked up to the man and showed him the picture of the smiling duet. He took the picture from me and held it to his heart; big tears were streaming down his face.
“You have no idea how much this means to me,” he sobbed. “I love you guys.”
I guess he did. When we returned last weekend to play there again, he was in the front row, smiling…
-Bob Lanz, L.C.S.W.
The big guy standing near the parking garage told us, “I’m just the security guard,” but said he would try to help the band find parking. If you know Santa Monica, where we were doing an outdoor gig at a nice nursing home, you know we were a lot more likely to need help with parking than we were with security. We all got a good place to park our cars and only had to carry our equipment a short distance. It was a sunny day and we set up on the patio where the residents were enjoying a beautiful day by the beach with a bar-b-que and live music. That’s us.
I’m sort of the roadie and equipment guy as well as the photographer and president of our organization. With all that assumed authority I get to set things up, to a degree, the way I want them to be. I like to give our singers long cords, thirty to fifty feet, on their microphones so they can get off the stage and out into the crowd. The nursing home staff and residents seem to like that and the singers do too. The residents often sing along and hug the singers. As a medical social worker, I have always encouraged physical contact like that and the nursing home residents love it when I bring pictures of them with the singers or the band the next time we play there.
Near the end of our set, the residents were dancing and singing along and I happened to glance over at the big security guard, also watching the show. As I looked closer, I noticed he had tears on his cheeks. No social worker would let that get by, so I walked over to make sure he was OK. Sometimes our performances hit a strong musical memory and it isn’t uncommon for patients at nursing homes to tear up from such memories. But it didn’t seem like that would be the case with this guy. He was too big and strong for that.
“Are you all right?” I queried.
“Yeah, I guess,” he answered and then went silent for a moment. I did too.
“I’ve worked here for a few years now and seen a lot of musicians come and play, but you guys are the first ones I’ve seen that physically touch the patients. Other bands seem a little frightened to do it. But look at them. Look how happy and content they are.”
By now he was wiping at his eyes trying to keep up with those happy tears. Pretty brave, I thought, for a guy who was “just the security guard.”
We still didn’t need one of those. We just needed help parking. But the residents really did need that security guard just like they needed that touch. It was a special gig for us, getting noticed in that way. Even the social worker.
–Bob Lanz, L.C.S.W.