How I Got Started

I  was meeting my daughter at a convalescent hospital in Santa Cruz, CA.  She was playing her guitar to work off hours for a ticket she'd received [she was playing music on the sidewalk!]. She was playing quiet New Age-type classical music because she thought this would be the best for the residents. (She now performs regularly in convalescent hospitals under the name Stardust Music, but that's another story.  See Success Stories on our Musicians' Corner page.). They had a piano in the room and she suggested I play a song or two for the folks. The room was very quiet with the residents just passing the time, the way they do all day, every day.  


At that time, I was performing piano bar at the Mission Ranch in Carmel where one of the favorite songs of the older patrons was I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, so I thought I’d try that. The change in the room was dramatic.  It was a party!  People started singing along, tapping their feet, clapping their hands.  One fellow got out of his wheelchair and started to dance with a nurse. (I found out later he hadn’t done that for over two years!) The music’s effect was truly magical. This same scenario has been repeated almost EVERY time I play a show--people sing, tap their feet, and some are inspired to dance.  


I started to volunteer and perform on a weekly basis. Every week I saw the miraculous effects of the music and built some wonderful relationships with the residents. After about six months of performing as a volunteer (it never occurred to me that there was budget for this type of work) I was asked to accompany a singer who was performing at a retirement home. She offered me $50 and, as a working musician never turns down a gig (almost never), I said yes. After the show, she asked me if I'd be interested in playing for her regularly as she gets about five or six of these gigs a month. I said yes and started to explore the possibility of doing shows in convalescent hospitals because it was obvious to me that this is where the music was really needed. I made up a brochure and started calling facilities and booking gigs. As they say, the rest is history.   


  Calming Down

I was performing in a what I call a "hard-core" facility, which means overcrowded and understaffed.  The performance was to take place in a small room with one small window on the 6th floor. The room was packed with residents. One woman was banging on her tray and making repetitive noises. As this happens often and the people usually stop when the music starts, I started the show with a few up-tempo songs as I usually do. The woman didn’t stop either banging her tray or making noises. I had read recently how waltzes can have a calming effect on residents and figured it was worth a try. Incidentally, there was no one from the staff in the room (which is often the case) so I was on my own.


I started to play one of the most requested waltzes, Lara’s Theme from Dr. Zhivago, and the woman started to calm down. Her banging was less frenetic and her noises softened. I played a few more waltzes like Let Me Call You Sweetheart and Till We Meet Again and, by the third waltz, she was singing along in a beautiful voice. She was calm for the rest of the show and sang many of the songs. 


  Bubbles and More

I was performing at a relatively new place. I've only been performing there about six months. The folks were enjoying the show as usual when the Activity Director made a request for I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles. When I started to play it, she turned on a fan at her desk and started blowing bubbles in front of the fan which quickly spread around the room, much to the delight of the residents. They started catching the bubbles and giggling. It was a wonderful addition to the show.


A little later, I was playing 12th Street Rag and the Activity Director grabbed one of the resident's canes and started doing her version of a song and dance act, kind of goofy, but full of energy and enthusiasm. Needless to say, the residents loved it and gave her a big round of applause.


These two examples show how much another person, whether the Activity Director or a volunteer, can add to the show. The residents just love when someone dances, either with them or just dances alone to the music. We've often discussed the potential for having a person at the show whose only job it is to interact with the residents by singing with them, dancing or just being with them during the music. 


  She Can’t Speak

I was performing my regular show asking for requests as usual and a woman called out "Always". At first I didn’t understand her, but after she repeated it, I realized what song she wanted. As I started to play, I noticed the nurses were talking and pointing at this woman. They seemed all excited. The woman was singing along, but, to me, that is normal, especially for that song, which almost everyone sings. The nurses got more excited. When the song was over, the same woman asked for Blue Skies in a much stronger and clearer voice. She sang this song also, again in a stronger voice. She was animated during the rest of the show and sang along with many of the songs.


After the show, I asked the Activity Director what was going on. She told me the woman hadn’t uttered a word in over a year! One more example of the Power of Music. 


  More Miracles

I was playing at a typical convalescent hospital. A guy, looked like a stroke victim, started waving his hand in time to the music like he was leading the band. After about 15 minutes he started to sing and the residents and staff were amazed - he can’t speak - or so they thought - he sang along with every song - and was quite loud on You Are My Sunshine. One of the staff members was brought to tears from the emotion of seeing him so happy. She told me that he’s one of the hardest patients to deal with because they can’t communicate with him. Seeing him actually sing gave her hope that they can improve the situation. At the end of the show he shook my hand with a strong grip and his eyes were wide with excitement.

One woman was asking for something Irish with "woman" in the title. The Activity Director couldn’t figure out what she wanted. I flashed on the Irish Washerwoman and that’s what she wanted. I started to play it and one of the CNAs started doing the Irish jig. Needless to say, everyone was thrilled and started clapping along with the music.


One guy, Jim, another stroke victim, seemed in charge of requests and sang on every song. He asked for 12th Street Rag; when I started to play it he broke into tears and cried the whole song. Then he was smiling again asking for more songs. The woman next to him asked for a song ‘I was looking back to see if you were looking back to see if I was looking back at you in your model T Ford’ - she also participated by singing, asking for songs and she and Jim were obviously connected emotionally - they kept looking at each other and singing to each other - especially on I Don’t Know Why.


Another resident, a young woman about 30-40 who appeared to be afflicted with MS, asked for Elvis and she broke into a big smile when I played Can’t Help Falling In Love With You. (It’s really much harder emotionally to play for younger folks; it seems so much more unfair somehow.)


In many ways it was just another show filled with the miraculous effects of music.




  O Sole Mio Stories

Some songs are magical; O Sole Mio is definitely one of them. I have many stories about the effect of this song on different people, but these three stand out for their dramatic effect:


I was performing in a convalescent hospital in San Francisco for about 60-70 residents and playing O Sole Mio. I noticed a man in a wheelchair moving toward the piano. This often happens and people will try to get closer to the music. But this seemed different. He didn't look like he was going to stop and he was coming pretty fast. As he got right next to me, I stopped playing and got up to see if I could get him calmed down. It turned out he wasn't doing anything. The woman behind him (who was so tiny I could barely see her over his shoulder) was pushing her wheelchair into him and forcing him to move towards me. When I realized what was happening, I looked at her and she had a crazed look in her eye. I told her she could listen to the music from there and she calmed down for the rest of the show.


After the show was over and I was packing up my equipment, she started to sing O Sole Mio in this beautiful voice. It was so quiet you could barely hear her. But the room got silent and everyone was enthralled. She sang both verses and got a rousing round of applause from the residents and staff.


This next story took place in a smaller hospital with only about 10 or 12 residents in the room. I just started playing O Sole Mio when a man walked in and sat down next to a woman resident. Then he started to sing with this operatic voice in what sounded like perfect Italian. When he was finished, I told he how great it was and he just looked at me. He didn’t speak a word of English. He had literally just gotten off the plane and taken a cab to the hospital to see his aunt. The first thing he heard was me playing O Sole Mio and he couldn’t help himself. He just sang it to his aunt. I often wonder what kind of effect that had on him, to be a stranger traveling so far to see his aunt and having this beloved song greet him.


The next story took place at a large retirement community where I perform a few times a year for an afternoon program in a large auditorium with usually about 1000 people. I’m up on a large stage with full amplification doing my Piano Bar Show and people are singing along, and often getting up to dance. I start to play O Sole Mio and a gentleman stands up in the middle of the audience and starts to sing to his wife. He sang it beautifully and brought the house down when he finished. (It was a hard act to follow!) Everyone was moved by his performance, the sentiment and the spontaneity of the experience. 


  Scouts at a Rehab Center

Most of the musical entertainment at these facilities is somewhat less than entertaining. It seems particularly hard for the folks in rehab centers who range in age from 20 to ?? who are usually functioning on a normal level but are stuck in these facilities for a variety of reasons. But stuck they are.


When a new entertainer comes to this particular facility in Portland, Oregon, they have a scouting system where the residents who can move about easily check out the new musician and then report to the rest as to whether it’s worth their while to come or not.


I start the show as regular and there are about 15 people scattered around a fairly large dining room. Ages range from about 30 to 90. When I do shows at these types of facilities I generally choose from the many songs that have been hits in multiple generations; songs like Blue Moon, Ain’t Misbehavin’, It Had To Be You, etc.


As I’m doing the show I notice first, that the Activity Director is dancing all over the place and second, that someone would leave during a song and then return with 2 or 3 more people. This was repeated throughout the show until there were about 50 people in the room by the end of the show.


As more younger people showed up, the requests went from Baby Face and St. Louis Blues to Neal Diamond, Jimi Hendrix and Creedance Cleerwater Revival. I had to be careful no to turn it into a full blown rock and roll show.


At the end of the show, one fellow called out, "Would you stay for another hour if we paid you $1000?" The Activity Director said that was the ultimate compliment - they actually wanted more music. She filled me in on the scouting procedure where each wing has a representative to check out the music and comes back to give a report to the rest of the residents in that area. She also told me they mostly get accordion and harmonica players and most of residents don’t bother to come at all, or, if they do, they leave right away.


  Soulful Party

I went to play at a facility that had cancelled my shows a few months earlier. This came as a result of the facility changing owners and the new owners decided that they were spending too much money on entertainers and decided to cut my shows down to once a year. I've run into this before and felt that I probably wouldn't be back. I had been playing there once a month for about eight years. Two months later I got a call from one of the nurses' aids who was now the Activity Director asking me if I would come back for my once-a-month show schedule because the residents missed me so much. I said yes and this was my first show after about a three-month hiatus. 


As I come in (this is an evening show after dinner) I always let Tugger (my Scottish terrier) off the leash and she proceeds to 'clean up the floor'. It's her job and she loves her job. A woman who is visiting her mother asks me to keep Tugger on the leash because of her allergies. I tried to explain that Tugger is a non-allergenic type dog but she was insistent. Needless to say, the residents who remembered us were not happy - they get a real kick out of Tugger doing her "dog stuff". And I was not thrilled either, but put Tugger on her leash and set up to do the show. 


After about 15 minutes, the same woman asked me if I could play a Dionne Warwick song that I didn't know. She rattled off about five or six Hal David-Burt Bacharach songs that Dionne recorded and I didn't know any of them. (A definite gap in my repertoire.) We finally got together on Respect and she started to sing. Well, the party began and everyone was boogying to the song. I was just playing your basic soul feeling while she did the Aretha Franklin treatment and the women just loved it. Some got up and started dancing like they were 16 again. A few of the nurses' aids came in and started dancing with the residents. We did this for the rest of the hour and everyone had a ball.


The lessons from this show are many. First of all, it wasn't supposed to happen at all because the administration had cancelled the music. Somehow the staff and residents got the new owners to back off of their "no music" policy. Then this woman and I started off on the wrong foot to say the least (don't talk bad about my dog type stuff) and I wasn't thrilled that she was there at all. And then we didn't really have a compatible song list. While I know a lot of songs from the 60s and 70s, all the ones she wanted to sing were not my favorites and so I never learned them. 


After all of this, we had a party that no one will soon forget and may set the pattern for shows to come. The power of music is always amazing and unpredictable. 


  Sucess Story

by B. Quinn

I met Bob Goldstick when he performed at an Assisted Living home where I worked as Concierge. I sang there every few months and told Bob I was very limited in performing because I only had an old cassette tape that had been made for me many years before. The problem was, there were only 10 songs on the tape. I had tried time and again , and invested quite a lot of money in Sing-A-Long tapes and cds. Not many of the songs worked for me because most were recorded for sopranos. I am an alto. Time and again I was so disappointed. No matter how I tried to lower the Key, I could never get the tunes in my range. They would either be too high or too low. Well, Bob to the rescue! He suggested we work together and record the songs I love to sing. He had his own special way of recording through his computer. It worked beautifully. Robert would accompany me as I sang. Only his piano would be recorded. He customized the tunes for me. In several sessions we recorded over fifty songs. From those, he made four different programs for me. He is amazing! He can play in any style, in any key. The support he gives me as a singer is wonderful. It's as if he is right there playing for me!


Meeting Bob was a turning point in my life. Somehow, I know it was meant to be. Because of his accompaniment, I am now able to sing several times a month in Retirement and Nursing homes. At last I am able to do what I wanted to do all my life - sing! I know this is what I was put on this earth to do. Robert has been an integral part in making these dreams of mine come true.  have never been as fulfilled or happy as I am at this time in my life. To be able to use whatever gifts I have been given to bring joy into the lives of so many people fills me overflowing with love and peace.


  A Christmas Horror

I was booked to play a Christmas party at a facility where I played once a month for a dinner show. I would typically play half an hour of background music while the residents ate dinner and then do a half-hour show with up-tempo music. There were often family and friends at the dinner, and it was a pleasant hour.


The facility had booked me for the Christmas show and, as I’m coming in, I notice all of the residents are in the hallway. As I'm walking in, I greet them and they tell me how happy they are to see me. I go into the dining room where I usually play and it’s all decorated and there’s quite a spread of food laid out. As I’m setting up my equipment, nurses and staff start to come in with a definite party atmosphere. Then they close the doors, with the residents outside! The time comes for me to start to play and the doors are still closed, and the staff is starting to get food and drinks. When I start to play, the residents start banging on the doors and I hear them calling "Let us in to hear the music."  One of the nurses walks out the door and I hear her yelling at a resident to stop that banging. Then she comes back in and closes the door behind her. I played a short show (about 45 minutes) and left. I never went back to that facility. I couldn’t believe that the staff could be so insensitive as to have their staff party in the residents' activity room, forcing the residents to stay in the hall.  Booking one of their favorite entertainers for this party was nothing short of a slap in the face. 


  You'll Never Know

You never know how a song is going to affect someone. Sometimes a request is just for their favorite song. Sometime it’s just the song that comes into their head. And sometimes the song brings back a flood of memories.


A woman visitor asked me to play You’ll Never Know. While I was playing it, I heard someone singing in a beautiful, soprano voice. When I played the second chorus, I laid back and let her sing the song. It was beautiful. After the song, she started to talk about how it was her and her husband's song when he went to the Second World War. Then she started to cry and thank me for playing thesong. I played Yes Sir, That’s My Baby and we were all singing again. Her mother started to sing on Smile Awhile with another beautiful, soprano voice and I knew where the first woman got her talent. After the show, the daughter thanked me again for the song and told me her mother said she had to come hear the show. (I had just started playing at this facility a month before.)