Need some aged cheese---help me out

November 27, 2019, 6:01 PM · I'm doing a really big dinner party gig soon and I don't quite have enough cheese. My collection of "old people who don't really like classical music but pretend they do to look smart" repertoire just isn't large enough for the length of the event.

Normally I would forgo the hunt for sheet music and just play out of the Real Book or something, but this particular event calls for the really pungent fromage. Sadly I don't listen to a lot of Andre Rieu so I don't know what's popular in old folks' homes nowadays.
If you have any suggestions (stuff like the Godfather theme or Christmas carols that are good for violin and piano) please leave them down below.

Replies (35)

Edited: November 27, 2019, 7:47 PM · Wow.

I would suggest adopting a less condescending attitude towards the people for whom you will be playing. I'm no fan of Andre Rieu but as someone who has played many times at my mother's assisted living/skilled nursing facility, your remark about "old folks' homes" is offensive.

I think some of the classic Broadway tunes are beautiful.

November 27, 2019, 8:26 PM · If you met the people I have to play for, you would not feel that way.

I'll definitely look up some of the Broadway stuff.

Edited: November 27, 2019, 8:47 PM · glad to see you're supplying the whine to go with the cheese yourself.

Broadway? salut d'amour? the more schmaltzy kreisler? sinatra arrangements?

edit to add: as an ethical matter, if all you feel for someone is contempt, don't take their money.

Edited: November 28, 2019, 9:50 AM · We live in a sort of historical watershed (is that the right expression?).
In the past I have done uke gigs at sheltered accommodation. They welcomed us, or rather our selection of stuff from Buddy Holly up to about 1980, as "the previous lot did all Vera Lynn numbers, whereas we were all born after the war".
Already many pensioners are ex Black Sabbath (even punk) fans. Half of them are younger than Mick Jagger. Three quarters of ABBA are in their seventies.
Yet there are plenty of centenarians (6,000 in the UK?), who do go back before WWII.
Classical? No idea - Good luck with that one!
In the case of prisons, any form of entertainment is welcome, and , sad to say, for many old people, where they live is a form of prison.
Edited: November 28, 2019, 12:21 AM · I've found that formal concerts at retirement communities tend to draw appreciative audiences that are typically pretty knowledgeable, so I wouldn't condescend. However, if you're just playing background music at a dinner party, you're providing a little bit of pleasant backdrop -- non-distracting easy listening.

Hal Leonard publishes decent gig books for this sort of stuff. You and your pianist should be able to sight-read the arrangements; if you don't have a pianist, most of the books have a recorded piano backing track. There's "Broadway Songs for Classical Players", "101 Movie Hits for Violin", "Songs of the 19XXs" (one book per decade, look for 40s, 50s, 60s), etc. There are also a zillion books of holiday arrangements if you want to play Christmas music, which will be pretty common for holiday party dinner gigs.

If they actually want classical-ish music, consider the Hal Leonard Violin Play-Along books, which have backing tracks ( There's a book of Strauss Waltzes, for instance.

Feeling contempt for your audience is going to create a feeling of burnout, I'd bet. They care enough to pay for a Real Live Violinist rather than just throwing on a CD in the background, I'll point out.

Edited: November 28, 2019, 2:01 AM ·

Throw in some jigs a reels, "old folks" love 'em.

What about this one....?

Edited: November 28, 2019, 10:46 AM · Never forget that music can and does communicate with people suffering from severe mental disorders like nothing else can.
[Edit added] It may be appropriate to mention in this connection that I have two very close family members who have worked in hospitals for many years in the medical care of patients with mental illnesses.
November 28, 2019, 7:32 AM · I certainly agree with Mr.Trevor that music can go deep within and touch off feelings that have been stagnant and dormant for a long time. I have played occasionally with my group in the past at a local nursing home and feel that it does not really matter so much what you play for them as they will enjoy anything you like to play. Alhough I have never played solo I think that I would play a mixture of jigs and reels and waltzes, Christmas songs, and even some of my favorite etudes and parts of concertos and they would be entertained and appreciative. We did put quite a few folks to sleep :)
Edited: November 28, 2019, 9:33 AM · "If you met the people I have to play for, you would not feel that way."

Please don't become a professional musician. You will hate your life. When you grow up you'll realize people come in every color, flavor, texture, and style.

At the retirement home where I play, there is one particularly lovely older lady who always wants to hear patriotic songs. She's definitely not alone.

I second Lydia's suggestion of getting some Hal Leonard gig books. Movie themes are particularly effective on the violin somehow. You can work toward developing a set of your own backing tracks (good use of that "little bit of piano" you've been learning), and then get a good amplifier that has a second channel for your phone to plug in, then you've got the makings of a good setup for restaurant gigs, busking, and the like. (Of course it's better if you use live rather than recorded accompaniment, etc.) But seriously, my guess is that you'll need an investment of around $3000 for a digital keyboard (don't skimp on that, trust me), two-channel amplifier (such as Fishman loudbox), couple of stomp boxes for tone conditioning (such as an equalizer and a reverb unit like EH Oceans 11, maybe a looper), then other gear like a tablet and stand, foot-pedal page turner, database software, lots of music and fake books of course ($$ adds up), plus DAW software so you can make your own demos. Get busy! With skill and motivation you can do it.

November 28, 2019, 9:46 AM · "music can and does communicate with people suffering from severe mental disorders"
Especially if you play it backwards, lol!
Edited: November 28, 2019, 10:16 AM · Although it has been a few years since I played for "old folks" (many of them younger than I am now) I recall that they probably comprise the most appreciative audiences you will ever find. They take what you give them without judgement. They enjoy the human connection of having a live "entertainer." They like to tell you of their recollections of other musical events on of the music you play. Some, of course, will tell you the same things many times, not remembering they just told you.
Bless them!
There but for the grace of God!

And whatever else you might think of Andre Rieu, were it not for his recording of it (heard on my car radio ~15 years ago) I would never have heard "Song to the Moon" from Dvorak's opera Rusulka before I played it in an orchestra with the soprano soloist butchering it. That song alone was worth all the rest (I later bought the soprano sheet music at my local music store - the only (old) copy - negotiated it down to half its $20 list price, transcribed it to a decent violin key and added it to my simple solos list).
Rieu is mostly about a stage show with brightly colored dresses and attractive ladies - who play string instruments well and attractive DVDs. (He even plays movements from Mozart concertos from time to time!) When I think of criticizing Rieu I think again and wonder if I should say that attending a Sarah Chang concert is all about watching her kick up her long skirt from time to time and guessing when she will do it next.

November 28, 2019, 9:58 AM · The advantage of the Hal Leonard books is that many of them come with a backing-tracks CD (or digital files for download). No need to deal with one's rudimentary piano skills.

By the way, Paul, I've been thinking about getting an amplifier set-up specifically to play piano backing tracks for this kind of "play easy listening music at an old folks home" stuff. I wouldn't amplify my violin in this setting; I'd figure this would be usually dining hall, big rec room, or the like -- maybe a thousand square feet of space. Any suggestions for an economical solution?

November 28, 2019, 10:39 AM · Worth noting that Andre Rieu won the "Premier Prix" in his youth when at the Royal Conservatory in Brussels. In my book that establishes credentials, including playing Mozart concertos!
November 28, 2019, 11:03 AM · Where I live, we have all sorts of assisted/nursing home facilities - some more affluent than others.

Some members of our church and I go to a less affluent assisted/nursing home every third Sunday of the month to minister to them through music. Although Christian music is a part of the repertoire, we also add non-christian music in the mix.

There are times where I would bring my violin to play for them. Sometimes I will play solo, sometimes another violin playing friend from church will play with me, while another accompanies us in the piano.

I've personally played some Bach S&P, which they really like. I've also played songs from the movie "The Sound of Music", songs from Broadway plays such as "Cats", and "Phantom of the Opera". One time, I played "My Funny Valentine" for a couple who was celebrating their anniversary (supposedly that is their theme song). I've also played songs from the movie Aladdin, and Beauty and the Beast.

In my experience, the people living in these facilities may "look" disinterested, grumpy, or even mad. But once you start talking to them (as we do), most of the time you will see a sudden change in their demeanor. They start smiling, talking to you, look you in the eye, and thank you for "visiting" them.

You soon realize that these "old" people where once young, and lived a vibrant life - perhaps even similar to how you are living now.

They have their back stories to tell. Some have not been visited by a relative in a very, very long time, and they long to be visited by them. Others are hurting because their loved ones just passed away. And then there are others who are hurting because of a painful illness they're experiencing. And sometimes, they are just "alone" in their life with no relatives or friends, and you are the only one who said "hello" to them outside of the facility staff.

If you ever play in an assisted/nursing home facility, whether it's a paid gig or not, I encourage the "player/performer", to take the time to talk to those they played/performed for. You may be surprised to realize how similar their life was, or may be to yours.

Edited: November 28, 2019, 11:59 AM · Have you asked whom is paying for the gig what they would like to hear?
Edited: November 28, 2019, 1:51 PM · I understand what you say, Mary Ellen, and I fully agree. But don't be down on aged cheese. Eating Parmesan or a nicely mature Comté is a wonderful experience!
November 28, 2019, 5:44 PM · I'd like to mention that I'm not playing for actual seniors, which I would be enthused to do. I'm playing for an unpleasant, snobbish, upper-class family. But thank you all for the song suggestions.
Edited: November 28, 2019, 8:07 PM · Yike, not sure how to respond to that. Perhaps a touch of sophistication (think repertoire played on the Titanic) would be appreciated?
November 28, 2019, 10:50 PM · As a pretty non-sophisticated listener (but trying to learn more), you're likely looking for some easily recognized classical music. Pachelbel's Canon and Bach's Air on the G String, or a season from the Four Seasons (summer?). A search on Google for most famous classical music may get you some pieces.
November 29, 2019, 3:31 PM · People are people. You must find some common ground on which you can relate to your audience or you are going to have a miserable life as a musician.

Holding onto contempt for one's audience is bad for the music, bad for you as a person, and bad for your future professional opportunities.

November 30, 2019, 2:08 PM · Depending on the audience, I'd include a few waltzes and polkas by Emile Waldteufel and Johann Strauss Jr (all well out of copyright - see IMSLP). They'll surely bring back memories and get old feet moving in time with the music!
November 30, 2019, 2:41 PM · "Have you asked whom is paying for the gig what they would like to hear?"

Finally, someone asked the only relevant question. If they're not sure or don't have any opinion, the prudent thing is to play a little something for everyone. You can't please everyone at a gig. Most people are very appreciative in having actual, living, breathing string players, something few get to experience at a party.

When my trio does this type of thing, we bring a large selection of baroque, classical, romantic, and other stuff like Irish reels, rags, and some well-known broadway tunes. People usually appreciate any kind of music as long as it's played well. Our collection is mostly from Last Resort publishers, and one of our members took all the tunes apart and re-bound them into just 2 or 3 large books. Mark everything so you know where (and if) you will repeat, and to where the da capos, dal segnos, cuts, and codas go (we use colored stick-on dots--for example, red dots from the da capo back to the beginning, and yellow dots from the coda sign to the actual coda). This is especially critical on the rags, which can be very confusing to navigate.

Invest in repertoire, organize it, mark it up, and practice so everyone can trust each other. Gigs are a lot less stressful that way.

Also, wear something with deep pockets so that you can grab some extra hors d'oeuvres for the trip home.

November 30, 2019, 6:14 PM · "I would suggest adopting a less condescending attitude towards the people for whom you will be playing. I'm no fan of Andre Rieu but as someone who has played many times at my mother's assisted living/skilled nursing facility, your remark about "old folks' homes" is offensive. "

Or it may simply be the truth. As someone who was in a choir that performed annually at a certain retirement community, where one year the director was told "don't sing too much of that classical music crap," their remark may be spot-on if that is the culture of that particular home.

December 7, 2019, 10:34 AM ·
only goes below the G string in two places, and you could put those two passages up an octave without destroying the effect too much.
December 7, 2019, 1:00 PM · "Worth noting that Andre Rieu won the "Premier Prix" in his youth when at the Royal Conservatory in Brussels. In my book that establishes credentials, including playing Mozart concertos!"

Is that almost as important as winning the banjo competition at the local "chili cookoff"?

December 7, 2019, 11:28 PM · Cotten was misunderstood. He did not mention, that he gonna play in a nursery home.
And there are people who can order a live-music to play at their dinner (not a small home-concert in brakes during courses, or welcome drinks), but literally during dinner, meaning that they gonna eat and talk, while you are playing.
I was several times invited to such a dinner (not like a player), and i feel very sorry for the band.
The attitude of the host was to demonstrate that he can afford it.
And yes "classical" music in his mind was everything, which is played by strings and piano. ))))

As none in that dinner gonna listen to you and appreciate, i recommend you to play what you personally enjoy and play for yourself, that at least you will be the person who appreciate what you play.
Your joy will transmit to others!

Enjoy! And get money ))))

December 8, 2019, 11:13 PM · "As none in that dinner gonna listen to you and appreciate..."

You don't know that. I recall being at a restaurant on one occasion, clapping to express my sincere appreciation of the performers, and them acknowledging that. You never know who's going to be in the audience and what they'll make of it. You don't have to like your employer, but you should try to respect your art and work - if you don't, then yes, why would another?

December 9, 2019, 1:08 AM · Wow, what is really upsetting me here is that people tend to think that 'old people' only can live in nursing homes and are mentally ill or need to feel sorry for. Plenty of old people (wherever 'old' starts) have there own households living a rich and meaningfull life, being a full community member.
I do understand what Cotton means here. The words are not chosen very caryfull but playing for snobs is not always a pleasant thing. But I agree with Paul and J Ray: people enjoy the music more often that you think only in different ways. And when you don't want to play these kind of gigs, dont become a (professional) player that has to do these kind of things for the money.
December 9, 2019, 2:39 AM · In my experience of playing background music at weddings and other social events there are always a few people who are thankful for the chance to listen to the music rather than participate in the conversation
December 9, 2019, 2:47 AM · But what is wrong with background music? It seems here in the discussion that there better can be no live music when people also are socializing. I really like live music also during dinner or wedding parties. Why can't we just both enjoy the music, listen for one moment and talk with someone the other moment, and sometimes do both (or pretend listening to someones talking but actually enjoy the music LOL)
December 9, 2019, 3:44 AM · I guess that's why background music was invented - to cover gaps in the conversation and provide an excuse for guests to check out for short periods without appearing lost or rude. And composers understood that. Mozart for one wrote reams of occasional music that doesn't demand or repay total concentration from the listener
December 9, 2019, 9:51 AM · Steve, +100!
Edited: December 9, 2019, 1:48 PM · Mozart composed 36 serenades/divertimenti/cassations/concertone, all meaning much the same thing and intended for social rather than formal occasions.

We all know “Eine kleine Nachstmusik”, but there is also the hour-long “Haffner Serenade” K250 (in 9 movements!) composed to celebrate the marriage of a daughter of the Haffner family, a family well-known to Mozart. This serenade is notable for containing a mini violin concerto which is thought to have been played by Mozart during the celebrations when he wasn't conducting the other movements. The last movement of this mini concerto (movement 4 of the serenade) is a rondo sometimes played today on its own – there is a video of Heifetz playing it.

December 9, 2019, 2:40 PM · Here is the video of Heifetz playing the Rondo, as an encore.
Edited: December 10, 2019, 6:57 AM · that mozart rondo arrangement was done by kreisler and we have a recording of kreisler himself playing it:

Kreisler plays Rondo by Mozart

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