It was very hot when I went to the dementia care house last Tuesday for my monthly visit to the elderly people there. They were sheltering in the shadow and the first group I visited was watching a documentary with pictures of mountains and snow. How refreshing! They weren’t that happy when A. turned off the television and even though I played some music from the north of Japan, it was challenging to pass on to them through my breath a feeling of cool air. Most of them did appreciate my musical interlude though, especially a tiny old woman, Mrs M., cuddling a big cuddle dog she always carries around. She loves music and spontaneously hums along with an evident pleasure. Two people were sleeping and two others were waiting to get the television back, but she was the one who was going to give me the biggest surprise of the day. Continue reading Summertime
April 25 – May 23
Back today to the dementia care home where I’ve been playing for elderly people since 2014. Between today and my last visit on April 25, I gave three very different performances: the Requiem of Jenkins in the concert hall in Middelburg with orchestra, choir and soloist ; the musical show “Fureidesu” with the storyteller Gerard Jellema in Rotterdam, and the opening of the exhibition “Les Petites Peurs” by S.P.A.M. van Griensven also in Rotterdam. Different places, different audiences, different ways of listening, different ways of playing. And here I am today, back in Nijmegen for my monthly visit to the elderly people cuddling their Teddy bears, playing with toys and desperately roaming in the corridors trying to find their way home.
What a difference.
What am I going to play today?
One reason I started this blog is to write about my visits to people with dementia, visits I started in April 2014. Playing shakuhachi for them is a strong and inspiring experience. From the very first day, I felt the urge to write about it, to talk about them. And I started to collect stories.
Although I mainly play for old people, I sometimes visit another building where the “young people” live. Quite a shock to realise that some of them are around my age. I only knew Alzheimer’s disease as the most common cause of dementia. With my visits to the Young people, I discovered Pick’s disease, a disease where symptoms begin in people between the ages of 40 and 60. Different age, different behaviour, different stories.
Here is a text I wrote in October 2014.
Monthly visit at the dementia care home
From my audience in the department called “Iris”, two people passed away. One of them was Mrs Kisses. She was 90. I’m happy to have met her, to have had time to write a few lines about her, and to remember her thanks to the nickname I gave her, which instantly brings back memories, which her real name doesn’t. I won’t forget her kisses.
Sakura Sakura (Cherry Blossoms)
It was a grey rainy day so I decided to play the song Sakura Sakura, with all kind of variations and introductions, to bring some Spring feeling to the patients. That was much appreciated. It feels good to see that the seasons still mean something to the patients, even though most of them don’t go outside anymore.
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.
I’m starting a volunteer job in a dementia care home, playing shakuhachi for the people in their bedrooms (individual visits) and during a massage activity (small group). I’ve never done that before and don’t know what to expect. I’m told that the goal is to connect to the patients, in one way or another, to reach them through the music. All kind of emotions can occur. “Don’t insist if they don’t want it or if it’s not the right moment, and don’t take it personal if they react negatively.” That was my formation for this job. Let’s do it!
I’m coming again, first time after the Christmas holidays. It’s a sunny and very cold day outside. Inside it’s very warm as ever. You don’t really feel the seasons here, it’s always very warm.
Going to the closed world of people stuck in their minds. Front door with security, first door with code, corridors, second door with code, corridors, turn right, turn left, here I am.
The first person we visit is Mrs Kisses. I give her this nickname because when she’s enjoying something, she grabs your hand to kiss it. Last time I was in her bedroom, it was her birthday, I think she turned 90 but I’m not sure anymore. I remember I hesitated to play a birthday song but I finally didn’t. She looks at us, not really reacting. And then she sees the flute, her eyes light up, and she points her finger to it with a big smile. And she starts to kiss A.’s hands.
When I started to play for people with dementia almost 3 years ago, I was told they won’t recognise me even if I was coming every day. From the beginning, I could notice that, although they most likely didn’t remember me, some of them did recognise the shakuhachi. Each time this happens, it gives me a warm feeling. Continue reading Waterlelie, January 2017