Why do we perform music? About a year ago, an author who was writing a book about people who follow and achieve their passions interviewed me. His first question stumped me. It was simply, “What is your passion?” I thought about it. Is it my passion to receive the accolades of thunderous applause following a performance? Perhaps it is knowing that I am making a living doing something that only a small percentage of people can say they do. When I was ten years old and asked by my flute teacher “What do you want to do with your life?” I unreservedly answered, “I want to make a million dollars playing my flute!” (I’m not quite there yet…) Maybe that’s my passion? As I voiced all these ideas to the interviewer, he just sat back and listened and waited. He knew that I had not yet reached the true essence of my passion for music.
Unfortunately for the author and his book, I don’t think I was ever truly able to pinpoint for him this passion in myself, and what to label it. But a 94-year-old woman in Chelsea named Constance was indeed able to name it for me. Here is our story.
A few years ago, I saw a Facebook post by another musician about playing cello for homebound seniors through an agency that partners musicians with senior citizens. It struck such a chord with me. How meaningful and special to get to share music with someone who is no longer able to go out to the concert hall themselves. I asked this cellist about it, and she put me in contact with the agency, whose mission is to provide the service of live concerts to homebound, hospitalized or otherwise isolated individuals throughout New York City.
I began going out to perform throughout the five boroughs for “NYC’s most deserving audiences.” Through this agency I have performed for homebound individuals, patients at hospitals, nursing homes, senior centers and soup kitchens. The agency has 100 musicians on their roster, organizes approximately 1,000 concerts per year, and reaches about 10,000 individuals with their music each year.
The company’s goal, as well as my personal aspiration, is to provide world-class music for these audience members, but even more importantly to foster meaningful connections and relieve social isolation through sharing music with these otherwise homebound and isolated residents. These meaningful connections are what make my heart sing every time I leave one of these experiences. There’s the Alzheimer’s sufferer who began analyzing and discussing with me in-depth the Indian raga that I had just performed even though he could not remember his own name. There’s the VA hospital staff member who came running up as I was leaving the building to tell me about one of the veterans who normally does not interact with the staff, doctors or other patients. But this veteran had left the room after my concert to very excitedly tell all the staff members and patients about it. They were all in awe at the difference in his demeanor and level of social interaction. Then there’s the bedbound patient who had not spoken since he suffered a stroke. But when I said goodbye to him after an hour of sharing music and telling him stories, he responded with one word: “More.”
As a musician, I am fortunate in working with these patients and residents because I am allowed to connect with them and to feel with them. So many medical personnel and careworkers are required to stay strong and not show emotions in order to continue to care for these patients, day in and day out. My little piece in the puzzle allows everyone – the patient, medical caretakers, staff and even me – to relax and be mindful of our own emotional selves – for that little while that I am playing.
Now let me return to Constance, my homebound friend in Chelsea. While I played for her, we shared stories about how music has woven its threads through the years of our lives. At one point she asked me to come over to where she was lying, bedbound. She asked if she could give me a kiss. As I leaned down to hug her, she gave me a kiss on the cheek and said, “You have found your passion!” I responded, “Yes, I definitely have a passion for music.” And she emphatically said, “No! That is not your passion. Your passion is sharing your music with others and making us feel appreciated, needed and loved.”
Constance was only half right. Yes, I do indeed love to share my music with others. But my passion comes from the connection that is achieved through music with these people who are so different in age, culture and backgrounds from me. Often we don’t even speak the same language, but the music is our universal connection. Constance felt appreciated, needed and loved because of our time together – and because of the music. What she didn’t realize was how appreciated, needed and loved she made me feel through this magical connection that music created between us.
I’m sharing this story not to make myself look great but to encourage other musicians to perhaps discover the incredible passion of sharing music with others in ways that are outside our normal trajectories.
The incredible experiences through this organization allow me to create these connections with the most deserving of audiences…those individuals who are isolated due to age, health or other circumstances. I get to give them an hour of respite from their situations with my undivided attention, music,and conversation. As one chemotherapy patient said to me: “You’ve come with music…the best medicine of all!”
Flutist Tereasa Payne (www.tereasapayne.com) has been a member of Local 802 since 2012. If you have a personal story about your music that you’d like to share with Allegro readers, e-mail Allegro@Local802afm.org.