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Pauline Lerner

Seniors and kids

March 20, 2006 at 9:03 AM


I played two really fun gigs this past week.

Thursday I played for high tea for some of the women of the Red Hat Society at the independent living center of a nearby retirement home. The Red Hat Society is a vast social organization of senior women who do silly things and have fun. These women wore big, broad brimmed, red hats that they had decorated with outrageous ornaments, mostly purple, including feathers, fake flowers, and ribbons. They may have had medical issues, but their minds were perfectly intact, and they were well educated and cultured. I was approached for playing this gig only four days in advance, but that was no problem. I was allowed to play almost anything I wanted almost any way I wanted. The only limitations were that the music had to be classical and I had to play softly, as background music. To prepare, I got out my Classical Fake Book and had fun. (The Classical Fake Book, BTW, is a gem of a collection of themes from 600 or so great pieces of classical music.) Every time I play from that book, I discover more great music. Making choices was fun once I accepted that I must play something by some composers other than Bach. I decided to stick with well known, well loved pieces. My selections included some little pieces from Anna Magdalena Book, parts of some Bach cantatas, three movements of Eine Kleine, parts of The Four Seasons, Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings, some Gilbert and Sullivan tunes, some themes from some Brahms symphonies, Grieg’s Norwegian Dance, and some of Tchaikovsky’s ballet music. I could have gone on for hours and hours. I took a break from playing to have some of the food served for the high tea – Hamantaschen (pastries for the Jewish holiday Purim), fruit, and tea. I think my audience enjoyed listening almost as much as I enjoyed playing.

From seniors to kids…

Friday night I played with my community orchestra in an outreach concert at a local elementary school. The students were not from wealthy families and had few or no opportunities to hear live orchestral music. I remember that in my own childhood, the only live orchestral music I heard was at free concerts held in parking lots of shopping centers on summer nights. The philanthropic organization sponsoring these concerts was a local brewery. I believe that it’s very important to let lots of people, especially young people, hear and appreciate classical music, so this genre doesn’t become extinct. Our conductor is also a very good teacher, and he told the audience a little about the music we played. Members of the audience included students, their families, the school principal, and a janitor or two. The pieces we played were very accessible and reliable crowd-pleasers, including parts of Bizet’s Carmen Suites. Our conductor told the audience that this very Spanish music was written by a Frenchman. As an entr’acte, a couple of us played a few Celtic pieces. After all, it was St. Patrick’s Day. We pulled it off quite well, especially in view of the fact that we had very little time to practice. Our last Celtic number was an Irish polka (John Ryan’s), and our conductor, who doubled as rhythm guitarist, told the audience that he wouldn’t even try to explain an Irish polka. The musical diversity was capped by the mother tongues of the audience: English and Spanish. The Irish polka was rowdy, and the audience clapped and stomped along. Before resuming the classical music, our conductor said, “I may not conduct the National Symphony Orchestra, but Leonard Sladkin doesn’t play rhythm guitar.” As our conductor often reminds us, there are many things that draw people apart, sometimes willfully so, but music is great for bringing people together.

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