Archive for the ‘Learning Music’ Category

New old song

I learned this song recently by request. Like so many of the era, sweet, simple, memorable. Nursing home residents seem to dig it. I rather like the melody, and I like to pair it with Red Sails in the Sunset because I think it’s cute.

Newest songs

Also, I’ve been really bad about practicing, though now I’m getting better about having a daily routine. Here are my newest songs:

Unforgettable – recorded by Nat King Cole in 1951.  More info.

Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White –  a fun song I learned at the request of a patient in Merion Gardens. There is a (very different-sounding) version with words here.

Getting to Know You – from the 1951 Rodgers and Hammerstien musical “The King and I.”

and a hymn request:

What A Friend We Have in Jesus – it’s really a sweet tune.


Yesterday I played for a Ukrainian woman whom I’ve seen before. She doesn’t speak much English, though I believe she understands. She was sitting in a wheel chair with an aide by her side. She was very agitated. I know she likes classical music, so I started to play a theme from Finlandia, which was the first thing that came to mind, and she immediately visibly calmed down and even started to hum along. She started to say something in English, and that was the first time I’d heard her speak it. As I played, she became agitated again and tried to get up. She managed to get out of her chair and walk a few steps with the aide close behind with her chair. The aide tried to get her to sit back down but she kept yelling at her in Ukrainian. Eventually she did have to sit back down because she got tired, and she started speaking to me in Ukrainian again. Then she reached out to me and kissed my hand. She pulled further and kissed my wrist. I played for her a little longer, and when I started to leave, she kissed my hand and my arm again. Though my BSH training yelled at me to get to the nearest handwashing area, it was such a sweet sign of gratitude – at least, that’s how I understood it.

Yesterday I also played for a woman I’ve seen a few times, who’s always curled up in bed and rarely speaks. Last time I saw her was the first she’d said anything, and it was to tell me to take a quarter lying on her table! She’s obviously in a lot of pain and to think she wanted to give me a tip – well of course I didn’t take the quarter but thanked her anyway. Yesterday she told me that her daughter just died of cancer and that she hopes she sees her soon. She repeated that over and over. It was so sad. And yet again, she told me to take the quarter from her table.

Latest song learned: On A Clear Day – requested by a sweet lady at Cardinal Village. It’s from a musical of the same name from 1965. Probably the most well-known version is from the 1970 film with Barbara Streisand (I just happen to love Robert Goulet’s voice).


Sometimes when playing popular tunes, I wonder if patients and residents recognize or appreciate them because often the singer has as much to do with their emotional connection as the tune itself. Tonight I ran into a great example of why I shouldn’t worry so much about it. When people really know and love a song, they sing along and/or probably hear their favorite singer  singing along in their heads. By request, I learned “Because of You” written by Arthur Hammerstein and Dudley Wilkinson and used in the 1951 film “I Was an American Spy” (according to Wikipedia).

The first version I heard was a rather jazzy one by Louis Armstrong.

The next was a crooning one by Tony Bennet.

I then clicked on what turned out to be an operatic version sung by Jan Peerce.

And lastly, well I just have to say this one is pretty weird.

Take nothing personally

So today another of our internship lessons came to the fore: “Don’t take anything personally.” I was at a facility to visit some of our hospice patients, and when I went to play for one of them, her nurse was there and said she didn’t think it was a good idea. She (the patient) had been agitated all day and she had finally gotten her morphine and was still somewhat agitated. Here I thought “well calming is exactly what I’m here for!” Instead I meekly said “Well, calming is kind of exactly what I do,” but she reiterated that while she’s sure my music is beautiful, the patient was agitated and getting ready to pass. Grrr

During the internship, it was easy. Any staff member’s opinion or direction trumped because we were volunteers and guests of the hospital. In this case, I’m a co-worker, and I feel like this nurse impeded me from doing exactly what I was there for. Now I have to figure out if there’s anything diplomatic I can do about it. I don’t want to run to my supervisor and sound like a tattletale while perhaps causing some kind of resentment from the nurse. At the same time, she needs to understand why I’m there. Or maybe I do. Hopefully this can get resolved for future reference, but I’m afraid that this patient may pass before I get a chance to play for her.

On the upside, I did what I could do and stood outside the door and played even though it was closed. At least the intention was there. Plus, another nurse stopped by and for the minute or so she was in the room, the door was opened a bit, so some of my music was able to reach the patient. I’ll never know if it really touched her, but I can hope.

Latest song learned (I knew some of it before, but not the whole thing): Moon River from Breakfast At Tiffany’s.

To speak or not to speak

During our internships and classes, we learn that when playing at the bedside, talking as little as possible is best. Most of the time I wouldn’t even introduce myself, I would just go in and play. Then I learned that maybe it’s nice to introduce myself and even ask if the person wanted to listen to some music. Sometimes. Depending on my perception of the alertness of the patient. Of course, if a patient spoke, we learned it’s ok to respond as long as we don’t turn it into a conversation and try to steer the patient from turning it into a conversation.

The hospice job, however, is very different. Working in nursing homes is not at all like working in the hospital because the residents aren’t necessarily very ill unless of course I’m in the nursing or dementia unit. Conversing can be ok as long as we stick to the rule of not giving out too much personal information. That is up to the individual to decide. I don’t mind telling residents my name is Kitty and I’m from Philadelphia. Group hours can be awkward because I’m still used to not speaking. I’ve come up with a little spiel, and sometimes I remember to introduce songs. I’ve gotten better over time. The lunch hours are even more confusing because I’m supposed to be background music, but they treat it like a performance and clap after every song. I’d like to be able to tell them that it’s ok to focus on their lunch and not clap! Though one, I’m still trying to be in the background, and two, it doesn’t really seem my place to tell them not to clap. I just feel kind of bad for the ones who do want to eat, but might feel they should clap because everyone else does.

Yesterday I finally started back on my list of songs to learn. This one is a little more difficult, but I’ve mostly got it: Days of Wine and Roses – by Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini for the 1962 movie of the same name. Someone asked for it a long time ago – I think in a lunch room.

Making choices

When I was doing my internship at RWJUH Hamilton, I would go almost every day during those first few months and spend long hours. I would play for everyone I possibly could, and when someone asked for me, I’d go without question. Nowadays, as far as I know, my job is to play for the hospice patients and the general facility populations. Sometimes, though, when targeting my patients, I feel like I don’t have the time or sometimes the energy for the others. I know it’s not necessarily my job. In fact, since I’m being paid by the hospice, unless I’m doing a marketing thing like a lunch or group activity coordinated with the facility, they probably would like me not to spend much time with non-hospice residents. It just makes me feel kind of bad since I don’t have all the time in the world like with my internship, and I’m definitely not a volunteer who can take as much time as necessary to play for everyone possible.

The upside, however, is that I reach more people that I can get to know than with the internship. I work in a very wide area and play for a large number of people. While the populations don’t rotate as much as in a hospital, it’s nice to have repeat visits. I have the opportunity to ask people what songs they like and then go and learn them and come back to play them. That seems a special delight for these people.

Speaking of which, the latest song I learned: Let Me Call You Sweetheart

Though – oh dear! I just learned that I only learned the chorus. Apparently there’s more to the song. Speaking of choices, generally that’s the part that people remember most anyway, but it helps to lengthen sessions to have a whole song. So, to learn the whole song or stick with the chorus? Of course I’ll go learn the rest. Here’s the whole song that I’m talking about.

Playing for smiles

One of my favorite parts of my job (probably my most favorite), is drawing smiles from people who probably don’t have much occasion to. There are some people I see repeatedly who I especially love to play for because I love to see them smile. One, for example, I saw yesterday. I’ve never seen her out of her bed, and often when I go in, she’s talking and she sounds very sad. She’ll say an Eeyore-like “hello,” and then I’ll begin to play “Jesus Loves Me” or “You Are My Sunshine,” and she smiles and laughs and sings along. Yesterday I played both, and when I was finished and started playing for her roommate, she began talking and sounding sad again. I was about to leave when she spoke to me directly and said she missed Santa Claus this year and asked me to ask him to come around. I wasn’t really sure what to say to that, but I started playing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and she laughed and sang along again. Afterwards she said a somewhat cheerier “bye-bye!”

I have another patient I see out in NJ who I’ve been told is generally a “half-empty glass” kind of person. One day I got a call from one of the Compassionate Care social workers just to tell me that this patient told her how much she loves my visits and is always eagerly awaiting the next. There really is nothing to make someone’s day like being told your work is appreciated. I still haven’t quite gotten a smile from her, but last time I saw her, she sang along to “Eidelweiss,” which I quickly learned is her favorite.

In other news, today I got a certificate for passing the National Institute of Health’s online course “Protecting Human Research Participants.” I took the course as a requirement for the Bedside Harp mastery-level certification, and now if I am ever involved in an institutional research study, I have this under my belt.

Two new songs I learned:

I Love You Truly – a parlor song from the turn of the century by Carrie Jacobs Bond, popular in 1912 recorded Elsie Baker. Also recorded by Pat Boone, Victor Borge, Al Bowlly, Bing Crosby, The Ink Spots, Liberace, Guy Lombardo, The Platters, and Lawrence Welk, and of course – Al Martino.

and O Sole Mio – a Neapolitan song from 1898 made popular by the likes of Pavarotti, Enrico Caruso, Mario Lanza, and Elvis. The lyrics were written by Giovanni Capurro, and the melody was composed by Eduardo di Capua.

A couple more hymns

Two more songs learned today:

Lead On O King Eternal


God Be With You Til We Meet Again

I have a patient I see every other week who loves to hear church music, so I have to work pretty hard to keep it diverse. Works for me, though. I’ve been needing to learn hymns. Once again, youtube is super great. Well, that and the ability to match pitch. I’d be lost with sheet music!

New songs

My three newest songs:

Old Rugged Cross – Christian hymn

Near the Cross – Christian hymn

In the Good Old Summer Time - first published in 1902 by George Evans, words by Ren Shields