Playing gigs for seniors in nursing homes and assisted living facilities can provide undeniable joy -says Jaime Babbitt.
This topic is near and dear to me, and singers and musicians with older loved ones in similar situations may feel the same.
For those who haven’t the experience with this population, I suggest you watch two documentaries, both widely available: Young@Heart and Alive Inside. These films will blow your mind and heart wide open.
Think about these points as you wonder about how to continue working with your voice:
Learning older music broadens your horizons
Some music that seniors love can be a little… cheesy, but a lot of it is fantastic: Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Hank Williams, Bob Dylan, Mahalia Jackson.
Wrapping your voice and vibe around songs from days of yore can be very inspirational and challenging. Getting out of your comfort zone in a low-pressure setting like a nursing home is great practice. Go listen to Ella Fitzgerald scatting and… yeah. Good luck with that!
Dealing With Different Audiences Is Good Practice
“There are no bad audiences, only bad performers”. I’ve heard that before, but it sounds pretty reductive. There are mood-altered audiences, preoccupied audiences, captive audiences, tired audiences. Nursing home audiences can be any or all of the above.
There is nothing more humbling than to have someone fall asleep while you’re singing. It throws your ego right out the window, which is not such a bad place for it to go when we’re trying to connect with others.
Connecting With Others Is Why We Play And Sing
Really and truly, I’ve been saying this forever to clients who want to get famous and impress their parents and friends: it’s not about YOU and what you’re GETTING, it’s about THEM and what you’re GIVING. This applies whether you’re playing rock music in an arena or waltzes in the common room at an Alzheimer’s facility.
We are helping create a shared experience, a nostalgic experience. And, as we (should) know, musical memory is one of the last things to go for people with dementia, etc. Remember this and honor this. You’ll be so happy to have someone sing “I’m Bringing Sexy Back” to you when you’re 90.
These Gigs Can Be Financially Rewarding
You’ll need an hour or so of material, a decent outfit or two, a website/EPK (electronic press kit) with some live performance video, a list of facilities in your immediate area and a couple of tablespoons of extrovert sauce.
Contact activities directors either by email, or over the phone if you’re old school like me. Ask if you can stop by to say hello. Going the extra mile in this kind of situation could work out well for you. Often, there’s an activity budget and lots of events going on at these places.
Music Is A Healing Profession
The power of music is such that we heal ourselves by playing it, and we also help heal others. The healing occurs in myriad ways: people in nursing facilities barely receive caring human touch apart from those who are paid to assist them.
Think about that as you remember to hug and hold hands with your senior audiences. Watch dementia patients that may not register your “hello” sing along syllable by syllable with one of their favorite old songs. I’ve seen it and it changed my life… it’s your turn now!
Jaime Babbitt is an-in demand voice teacher / vocal coach, session singer and performer who started as a Musical Director for Disney Records. Believing that no two singers are alike, Jaime assesses each client, providing personalized vocal tips and techniques relevant to their specific material for real-world application. Check out her book, Working with Your Voice. Email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org
You can see more of Jaime’s articles here.