In the dementia care home where I regularly play shakuhachi,”De Brug”, The Bridge, is the first department of the closed area. The people I see there walking around have still a foot in the outside life and the other foot… well, it looks like they don’t exactly know where they are. They are still looking for their husband or wife, wanting to go back home to prepare dinner, worrying about their mother to visit or their children to pick up at school. One woman asks us today where the busstop is to go to the city center. When she realises she doesn’t have money to pay her ticket, she doesn’t know what to do anymore. She eventually goes back to her bedroom. They don’t always remember where their bedroom is. They don’t feel home.
Today, my guide A. meets one of her old colleague in/on the Bridge. For a while, it is confusing: is she here to visit someone, or…? It turns out that she is now a patient, it is a big shock for A. Not so long ago, she was doing fine…
After passing the Bridge, you go deeper into the past. The past is what is left from the lives of the patients, fragments of what they can still remember. In one department, you can find on each door one current photo and one photo of the patient when he/she was younger. I like to look at the pictures. There are much more in the bedrooms, you meet the family on pictures there… and a few times in real.
Today, most of the patients we visit are awake (sometimes, most of them are asleep and we go from bedroom to bedroom without playing any music). I start with Mrs Kisses, who enjoys the entire session without being tired of it (see January 2017).
I also play for two women who are not Dutch. One is African (don’t know from which country yet) and the other one is Armenian. When they speak, they speak their mother tongue. The African woman reminds me of my own Grandma. She is usually quite agitated and cannot listen to more than one piece. But today, she is in a good day. She talks to us in her language and when I play, she sings along her own songs. I would like to play some African tunes but I don’t have the right flute for that, and nothing comes to my mind. I stick to Japanese music, it doesn’t matter anyway, it makes her sing, it makes her happy.
The Armenian woman is also in a very good day. She gives me applauses, maybe for the first time. Most of the time, she gets tired of the flute very rapidly. Sometimes she doesn’t want to listen at all. But today, she talks to me, I answer with the flute, that’s our little dialogue.
Some of the patients have gathered in the lounge. The individual visit becomes a mini-concert. I play first in the activity room, where people are enjoying a cup of tea with cakes and hearts (it’s Valentine’s day). I play a simple melodie and they start to sing along. I repeat it a few times like a song, and they pick it up: they are literally learning this Japanese folksong, it’s just amazing. Here I am, playing with a choir of 4-5 people who are truly enjoying to sing my music as if it was one of their favourite songs. Such a warm feeling. When I stop, one woman continues singing alone, with a big smile on her face. Happy Valentine!
We go further and I play in the lounge of another department, for a woman who is lying in bed. The others who are sitting on (wheel)chairs in the room enjoy the music as well. Unlike most of the others patients, she doesn’t have a cuddly toy, so I don’t recognise her immediately. When I play, she makes movements with her hand in the air, as if she was drawing. Then I remember I wrote once a little poem about her (in French):
Depuis son lit
elle dessine de sa main décharnée
les lignes de ma musique.
At the end of my visit, I play in another lounge where the nurse recognises me and welcomes me with enthusiasm. A few patients recognises me as well and looks happy to listen to me again. I show the flute more in details for those I meet for the first time. Nothing special happens, just being there together.
Today I feel like a bridge.
A bridge between these people living in their closed world and not going anywhere further than the chapel of the building to attend the mass, a bridge between their closed world and the world outside.
A bridge to cross the river of languages and communicate from both sides with each other.
A bridge between my music and their musical memories.
It’s a warm feeling.