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A not-so-typical recital

Americans spend millions of dollars each year on music instruction. Evidently hope springs eternal in parents — hope that their children will learn self-discipline and refine their motor skills. Hope that they’ll gain confidence and a love for music.

And all that hope comes to fruition when students get dressed up and take the stage for a culminating recital. Last month, Daughter No. 2’s name was listed on the program for such an event. Something was decidedly different this go-round, though. It was a typical recital in a not-so-typical place — The Aspen. 

The Aspen is a 44-suite state-of-the-art assisted living center. Built in Brookhaven just last year, it reflects new trends in nursing homes with its modern décor, fully-equipped gym, and safe room. Residents can even keep their pets. And on the morning of the recital, the facility was filled with young music students.

That’s because a pair of music teachers wanted their students to perform for an audience, but not in a regular recital venue. Older sister Samantha Naeger explains: “We were trying to make it a little bit more informal this year. We’ve played at different nursing homes before, and the students enjoyed it and the residents enjoyed it. It’s a good way to multi-task – to make it less about the students performing and sounding good, and more about them blessing other people with their music.”

Samantha handles piano instruction at Morningside Music Studios while her violin-playing sister Chloe offers lessons in stringed instruments. Chloe told me learning to play an instrument involves a lot of muscle memory, which means the students who performed at the recital had been practicing for months. “A lot of times there’s an idea that you can come in to a lesson every week and that’s how you learn how to play. There’s a lot more commitment to it than that at home,” she emphasized.     

The audience at The Aspen seemed easy-going enough, but even there, some of the students appeared anxious. A young pianist described the scene in one word — scary. His sister explained why.

“Everybody’s watching you. Like, they just stare at you.”

The other participants obviously wanted their pieces to be over with as well. Allegro. D.C. al fine. Anyone who’s been in a recital can relate. I think of my own botched performance of a certain sonatina. I couldn’t remember how to play it when it counted. Somehow it continues to play in my memory four decades later.

Samantha understands that.

“A lot of them were fighting nerves, for sure. It’s practice, just like learning the instrument. You have to practice how to perform and to keep those nerves in check,” she said. “It’s always a lot of pressure. We try to just stay as cheerful as we can and keep the tone light. We encourage them not to think of it as, “Oh, no, I have to perform,” but more as a gentle, enjoyable experience.”

The program included all the usuals — Fur Elise, Edelweiss, Folk songs, even an Irish jig. And the familiarity factor was important to residents, according to Macy Givens, community relations liaison at The Aspen. “The clapping and the foot stomping stimulates their motor skills,” she explained. “Sometimes when they hear an old hymn or something like that, they reminisce about their childhood and start remembering the words to them.”

The Aspen has a piano courtesy of a silver-haired resident named Mrs. Nash. She told me she’s glad the facility allowed her to keep her walnut-stained upright Yamaha. After the recital, she and her fellow residents critiqued the performance.

“I loved every minute of it. Emily, didn’t you?”

“Seeing them try so hard. That was really rewarding.”

“I just say I enjoyed the whole thing. “

“Yeah, it was good.”

Rich Balkcom is dad to two students who were on the program. “Some of the other recitals that we’ve been to have been at churches, and that’s wonderful,” he said. “But to be here with the residents, and for them to see the children and listen to them play is such a blessing. You can see smiles on all of their faces.”

Kim Henderson is a freelance writer. Contact her at kimhenderson319@gmail.com or follow her on twitter @kimhenderson319.