This is an article I wrote for a Chicken Soup for the Music Lover’s Soul project that got killed back in 2003. It has never seen the light of day. It is just too touching a story to not share with the world…so it is coming out of the closet (so to speak) this holiday season.
Much gratitude to you, my dear blog readers… for being a great community!
“Finding the Magic”
It was the mid-1990s in a Pennsylvania suburb. After close to a
decade of studying classical guitar I was reaching a place where
music was no longer any fun. A combination of long hours
practicing, a demanding teacher, and my own perfectionism left me
feeling exasperated and wondering if there could ever be any magic
in the music again. On more than one occasion I would slam my
guitar into its case in the middle of a practice session out of
frustration and think, “what is the point of this torture?”
One day while at a guitar lesson, my teacher, a gifted performer,
mentioned that a local elder care and nursing home needed someone
to perform at their Christmas holiday party. Since his schedule and
business didn’t permit him to accept these types of engagements, he
offered the gig to me.
I accepted the offer figuring it would be good practice performing
in front of people and offer me a few extra dollars spending money
for the holidays.
The night arrived for the holiday party with the requisite cold and
darkness associated with a Pennsylvania mid-December. As I drove up
to the large entrance of this Christian retirement community, my
usual uneasiness of being in nursing homes became noticeable. This
particular community included a wide range of people from
independent living to full nursing care. I simply told myself to
just relax, go in, play my classical arrangements and acoustic
carols, and call it a night.
After I finished setting up my music and instruments, the residence
director introduced me and announced the concert would begin. As I
started playing, the audience reacted to the music instantly. It
was such a refreshing experience to be able to get out of my head
and just play the classical guitar knowing that every note I
played, whether it was perfect or not, was felt and enjoyed by
The second half of the concert shifted from quiet classical
arrangements to acoustic versions of holiday songs and carols with
vocals. I could recall how many times I would practice and feel
that all these songs were not good enough and my voice wasn’t
powerful enough to wow anyone. On this night, however, it took only
a verse or two of”Jingle Bells” to start the audience clapping and
singing. Song after song, the crowd responded with genuine joy and
gratitude. For many, this night may have been the most social and
happy of the whole holiday season.
After the applause and concert ended, I began to pack up my
instruments. A number of the residents stopped to thank me for
coming to play. Those that were able told me how much they enjoyed
the chance to remember holiday cheer from happier days in the past
while generating some joy for the present.
In particular, one frail lady used her walker to come up to me and
said, “When I hear you play, I feel young again. I remember all the
happy years I played my piano with friends and family gathered
around me. As your music filled this room, it made me feel as
though I am living those wonderful times once again. Thank you so
much for taking me to that place.”
As I wiped a tear from my eye, all I could manage to say was “Thank
you very much. I’m glad you enjoyed it.”
I left that night uplifted in a way I had always dreamed about but
never experienced. While it may not have been a famous concert hall
or a Broadway stage, the performance I gave that night touched the
hearts of other people just the same.
That night I realized the irony that as musicians we torture
ourselves striving for perfection when the real magic is in the
giving. The giving of ourselves and our music, so that others can