Music has played an increasingly important role in my life as time has gone by. My early encounters were playing the recorder and singing in the choir at junior school, and then I continued by learning the flute at secondary school. I played a little at university but not much afterwards for a while; the demands of a job, courting and the early years of marriage took over!
However, I picked up on my playing when I joined an orchestra around 1970 and I still go along when I am up to it. My wife Pat and I enjoyed concerts with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and productions of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. Indeed, we often used to listen to G&S on a Friday evening when preparing and eating our evening meal. When Pat finally lost her battle with cancer, I found great consolation in listening much more to my CD collection and playing my flute nearly every day during those early months. Playing music with friends occasionally was another bonus.
I also play my flute occasionally in church. That has resulted in a fairly regular fortnightly session on a Tuesday morning when I am accompanied on the keyboard by my friend Gerald. This coincides with the Open Door morning at church when anyone can drop in for a coffee and a chat, and a listen if they want.
So what has this to do with the Hospice? Well, I started attending the Day Hospice on a Tuesday so I was faced with the problem of how to accommodate two activities since they are both very important to me. The compromise I have reached is for me to play sometimes in church and then Gerald brings me along to the Hospice before lunch.
Inevitably, folks at the Hospice started to query why I was late on some mornings and I explained that I had been playing my flute in church. “Why don’t you play for us?” came the question, and so I did. This was just after lunch, in what is usually a fairly quiet period as we are all fairly replete! My playing was well received and gradually I have ended up playing most weeks when I am feeling ok. This suits me just fine because I enjoy playing and am happy if people enjoy listening. It is not a concert, but just provides some gentle background music.
Of course, I am not the only source of music. The Day Hospice has a fairly extensive collection of CDs covering a range of different periods and genres so it is usually possible for people to find something they like to listen to. We also have visits from musicians who entertain us and they really do make the day very satisfying.
One popular visitor is a harpist who usually comes with two or three different harps and plays a wide range of music. The sounds produced are absolutely gorgeous. It is really fascinating to see the sheer size of the orchestral harp and to admire the tremendous finger work involved. She also has a small harp for us to try our hand at – with very mixed results, it has to be said. On one occasion she arrived with a whole batch of penny whistles and taught us how to play a few notes. That meant that we were able to perform a simple tune – the massed whistles of the Tuesday Day Hospice had to be heard to be believed! Happily, no recording of this is available for posterity. The penny whistle is quite similar to a recorder. The harpist spotted that I could play reasonably and I made the mistake of confessing that I played the flute. That was a mistake because she said that next time she might bring along some flute and harp music for us to have a go at: that is a worry because she is clearly in a different league from me!
Another visit was by children from a junior school choir, who came along and performed some lovely songs for us. They were very well received. Their singing was just part of their visit since they then stayed on to talk to us. I think that it was good for us to see their enthusiasm and to hear of their hopes and aspirations as they prepared to move up to secondary school.
It was also good for the image of the Hospice, since they realised that we were actually a happy bunch and they were clearly fascinated by some of the stories we had to tell. Hopefully they will have gone away to spread the word that the Hospice is a lively and interesting place. Unfortunately, there are still too many people who associate the word Hospice with doom, gloom and death – how wrong they are!
Although here I’ve focussed on some of the musical events which help to make the day at the Hospice more stimulating, the Day Hospice is always seeking to make days special. This is achieved by seizing every opportunity to celebrate special occasions and by having a variety of visitors, and I shall have more to say about this next time.