It was a crisp, clear December day and it was the day my junior high school friends and I had been looking forward to for weeks. We were so excited because today we would be getting a day off from school in order to play Christmas concerts at some local nursing homes. It wasn’t so much the concerts that excited us, but being off from school so that we could avoid the normal schoolwork and lesson plans. Our band had practiced the traditional Christmas songs for weeks and we were prepared to share our music.
Excitement filled the air as we carefully packed the yellow school bus with our school instruments. We didn’t quite know what to expect or why our band leader had made these arrangements, but he had made arrangements for us to perform publicly in several different venues before so we didn’t think much of it. As it turns out, this day and these concerts would forever stand out in my memory as the one time that our band played true Christmas concerts, for anyone.
A Small Audience
We boarded the bus and we were off to our concerts. We drove past familiar houses and farms and we soon arrived at the small one-story nursing home. We excitedly peered out the bus windows. Our excitement quickly turned to curiosity as we realized that there couldn’t possibly be that many people in the small nursing home, so our audience probably wouldn’t be very big. We were used to playing for auditoriums full of people. It seemed odd that we would have gone through all of the trouble to bring everything to this small nursing home for a full blown concert.
Our band leader took the boys who always did the band set up with him and they left the bus. As we waited for them to return we discussed what could possibly be going on since it appeared that our audience would be quite small in number. Some of the band members were disappointed and felt that this was going to be a huge waste of time; they didn’t understand why we would play for such a small audience.
The boys and our band leader returned to the bus and they informed us that we were going to set up just outside of the dining room. We filed out of the bus and headed to the area where we were to play. It was a small covered deck and there were no chairs. We were used to arriving at our destination with rows of chairs set up for us to sit in while we played. We were told we would be standing to perform. We had never done this before, but we figured it couldn’t be too much different from playing while seated. As we got into our places, we realized that standing was going to work out well after all. Once we were fully set up with all of the band members and our equipment, we barely fit on the deck.
The Christmas Concert of a Lifetime
As we warmed up our audience began to arrive. The elderly men and women slowly made their way down the long, stark hallway towards the deck. Many of the residents were brought to the concert in their wheelchairs. A few of them were able to slowly walk on their own, but most of those who could walk used canes. The staff brought chairs so that those who had been able to walk from their rooms could sit down. We looked at our audience, still puzzled that there were so few of them. As we suspected, the number of band members outnumbered the audience. Our small audience watched us with expectant smiles as we prepared to play for them. After a few quick warms ups, we began to play.
Our Christmas concert line-up included several well known songs and we ended with “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” The first song was robotically, mechanically played without a single note out of place. The music was technically perfect, the performance was not. We were less than enthusiastic. But at the end of the song we noticed that, although the applause was not at the volume we were used to hearing, the audience was clapping so enthusiastically that we were a bit taken aback. As the concert progressed our audience maintained the same level of enthusiasm after each and every song. A change of heart came over the band and we began to put all of our hearts and souls into our performance. Midway through the concert, we noticed several of the residents were crying. For whatever reason, our Christmas concert had really touched the nursing home residents, but not as much as they touched us.
While this was undoubtedly the smallest audience we had ever played for, they were by and far the most powerful and memorable. When the concert was over the nursing home staff announced that they had made punch and cookies for us. As it turns out, instead of eating and drinking, most of us spent our remaining few minutes talking with the residents who repeatedly thanked us for coming to play for them. Some of the residents were still crying, and so were some of the band members. All too soon it was time to go. We packed up and continued our concert day with the next nursing home. The Christmas magic continued throughout the day as we experienced similar reactions from other residents in other nursing homes.
A True Christmas Gift
I don’t know what it was about our performance that touched them so much. I don’t know whether it was that we had been able to reawaken childhood memories for them with well-loved Christmas songs or whether it was seeing young people around. Whatever it was, we were given a special gift that day and we played the rest of our nursing home concerts with renewed vigor, heart, and soul. We realized that what we were doing was important and life-changing. Not important and life-changing for our audience, but for us. We were able to experience what it felt like to have our music truly touch our audience, and it was a wonderful.
The gift from these Christmas concerts was the feeling of fulfillment and joy in knowing that we had been able to spread some genuine Christmas cheer. The joy and happiness expressed by our invaluable audiences gave us such great joy. Through time spent with them and songs played for them, we had been able to help make the day a little brighter for a precious group of people who had lived through so much. That day we were able to give and receive a priceless gift. We were able to give and receive the gift of time spent together while creating memories to last a lifetime and this, we learned, is what Christmas is truly all about.
Note: Our band leader passed away several years ago. I never asked him what prompted him to have our band play at the nursing homes, but I will be forever grateful that he allowed us to have this experience.
If you would like to try to have a similar experience contact local nursing homes and arrange to sing or play some Christmas songs for the residents. I am sure you will find your efforts are very much appreciated. No matter how you choose to celebrate I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas!