It has been more than a year I haven’t been to the department of Young People with Dementia (Bosweg) because of a big reorganisation followed by financial cuts. I don’t get paid for these visits but one of the consequences of this reorganisation is that each department must now organise its own activities and I’m attached to another department. So I wasn’t sent there anymore. Luckily, I recently happened to meet someone I already knew from this department and I found my way in again. I was really looking forward to it and to see the patients again. My appointment was today and it turned out to be one of the heaviest visit I made.
Maybe I had too many expectations and memories, or it has been too long ago, I don’t know. I played as usual in the sitting rooms of sections B and C. I was especially looking forward to playing again for some patients I have known since 2014 and who always enjoyed my music a lot. Two of them had died since my last visit last year. Another one didn’t recognise me and couldn’t focus on the music anymore. She had to leave quite soon to get some care. In the first room, the people didn’t react at all, except one man who was regularly kind of screaming-crying, with big dry eyes. He was actually enjoying apparently. I switched from pieces and styles without it making any difference or reaction. Apart from him, I couldn’t establish any contact with the patients. At a moment, the nurse asked a man I didn’t know before whether he was liking it. I couldn’t get all his answer but what I got sounded quite negative. After the session, she told me that he was in a difficult phase of his sickness and had difficulties to express himself. He could say in the same sentence: “I don’t like it” and “it is beautiful”. But whenever someone comes to play music, he usually walks away. Today he remained seated from the beginning to the end. So I had it wrong, it was positive.
Then we went to the second room. A man who used to be very cheerful couldn’t stop crying. His neighbour couldn’t stop screaming. Well, let’s try to play something. I hardly could hear myself. But it’s not what made me sad, it was to see how much their condition had deteriorated in one year. My perception at this moment was that they were suffering and I couldn’t do anything for them. There was a “new-to-me” man who liked to clap a rhythm pattern in his hands or on the table while whistling. It was adding up to the crying-screaming of the others, but at least, he seemed to be enjoying the music. The sobbing man was eventually taken away and his neighbour started to calm down a little. Then, a “new-to-me” woman came in. I was playing Kumoi-jishi and she started to dance. I was almost at the end of the piece so I made extra repetitions for her to make the piece longer. I enjoyed to see her dancing on Kumoi-jishi. It made me feel better. Then she sat down and listened to the next piece. After a little while though, she got annoyed with the noise of the clapping man and the irregularly screaming woman, and left. But something had changed, maybe only for me, maybe only for my own self-confidence. But that made me decide to play Sōkaku Reibo.
I played Sōkaku Reibo (“Nesting of the cranes”) in this very room before and it had at that time a magical effect on these patients. I had noticed today that the clapping man was enjoying making all kind of sounds with his mouth, so I wanted to see how he would react to this piece. The dancing woman was just back. For the first time of this visit, there was a moment of deep silence while I was playing. Beyond melody and rhythm (I tried before different honkyoku, folksongs and modern songs, without it making any difference), the special sounds of the shakuhachi – koro-koro, tamane – and the evocation of nature somehow managed to reach them and capture their attention. The silence I got then was not an empty passive silence, but a silence full of attention, smiles and astonishment. As if their sickness had given them a break for a little moment. A moment of music.
At the end, M., the nurse, asked them if they liked it. They all said “yes” and I could eventually feel it myself. The clapping man wanted to offer me a free kiss!