What to play for someone you'll never see again
I'm going to see someone close to me probably for the last time. They live far away and are really, reeaally old. Obviously bringing the violin is mandated by law, but I'm not sure what to play for them. I was considering doing improv on the theme from their favourite song, but they're so old I've probably never heard whatever that may be. On top of that, I don't want to do any fancy showpieces/ crazy variations because I don't think it'll be appropriate given the occasion.
I'd recommend playing something you can play well. Old folks, in my experience, like patriotic songs. They also like spirituals like "Amazing Grace" and familiar tunes like "Ashokan Farewell."
Just bring them some joy by playing something they recognize - something from their youth that brings back memories for them.
This is not the time to play whatever your latest concerto is. If you are familiar with hymns from their faith tradition, play those--this fits well with Christopher's suggestion, Edelweiss works well too, or Meditation from Thais. I also agree with Paul about Ashokan Farewell.
Leaving Lerwick Harbour, by Willie Hunter, a haunting air from Shetland composed for a beloved aunt leaving on the ferry, for the last time. Not difficult to play. I have performed it in a similar circumstance. Normally played as a solo, but here's a youtube with Nicola Benedetti & Kristen Harvey performing together: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RH3ZUd7b0Zg
Don't automatically rule out something lighter/happier. Laments are for the mourners. Choose a gift for the living.
The idea isn’t to play a lament, it’s to play something that will be (a) familiar to the intended audience, and (b) comfortable to listen to for somebody who is presumably in extremely ill health.
Yes, music that they like, if you know what that is, and you can play it. Barring that, perhaps your best guess from what you have at hand. If they can't tell you, perhaps a slower tune followed by a more lively.
What a great variety of suggestions. I'm not sure I could improve upon them.
How about you prepare several highly contrasting selections, and then ask this person to pick what they would like to hear? In my experience with outreach at various types of places which include nursing homes, elementary schools, and centers for those with disabilities, assumptions get you nowhere.
With respect, an extremely old person in very poor health is often not mentally up to making decisions, or finds doing so to be tiring and stressful. It is much better to go in with a plan of what to play.
Improvisation on "Eternal Father Strong To Save" might go down quite well if they were an occasional churchgoer.
I wonder what you might have chosen to play if you were at Beethoven's deathbed (in 1827) and if he could hear you?
Well, you have lots of suggestions. I'm familiar with your concerns. It's never easy to arrange a program for a certain audience. I am confident that if you tell them that you have chosen to play xxx for them and hope that they like it, they probably will.