Students Playing at Retirement Homes
Laurie Richards, Nebraska
I mentioned in another post that my students have the opportunity once
a month to play at a retirement center. We go to the same one each
month. I just wanted to share last week’s experience playing there.
I only had about 12 students sign up, and it went kind of fast. They
each played two songs. I felt like we needed to play more after
everyone had gone, so I just announced that anyone that wanted to play
more could come on up and play a song of their choice. The great
thing was that ALL the students couldn’t wait to get back up and play
A lot of things happened that made this so much fun for everyone:
1. During one student’s Jackson Blues, everyone started clapping to
the beat, and there was lots of cheering and clapping afterward. They
were really getting into it, and it really got the students charged
up. So more clapping ensued with other songs.
2. Someone played Amazing Grace, so I invited everyone there to sing
along. One of my student’s mom who was there has a fantastic voice,
so I asked her to lead us. Everyone enjoys hearing her sing.
3. One of my beginning students played Chester – he’s only about 7
years old, but he played it so dramatically at the end, put his whole
body into it, slowed way down, big flourish of the arms when he was
done. It was hysterical; he was just totally in performance mode.
4. One of my 10-year-old students whizzed through The Gaz in its
entirety. He is really good at it. It totally wowed everyone, and he
completely ate it up.
After everyone had a shot at seconds, I asked for volunteers to improv
with me. Lots more volunteers! We did some blues, I played Night
Storm acc. arr., Dreams acc. arr., Life Song lower part, etc. while
they improv’d. The students got into it, which made it very
Afterward so many of the residents came up to me and said, “You have
no idea how much we enjoy this every month. Please keep coming!”.
They start recognizing the kids’ faces. This is the first time that I
have printed a program for the residents, and I think that helped make
it feel more personal. They wanted to know the kids’ names and what
they were playing, and they can’t always hear if the kids just say it
Anyway, I just wanted to share this and encourage other teachers to
get their students playing for others. I think it helps them “get”
why it’s so cool to be able to play piano, and they can see first-hand
how much enjoyment other people get from it.
Carrie L., Michigan
Last year I took students to a Retirement Center as well probably 3 times
over the course of the school year. They called me in the summer and asked
if I could bring them again, but the summer was too hard to get students to
come on a Saturday afternoon.
I had an average of about 10-12 students as well. They each would play 2-3
pieces to start and like Laurie at the end I just opened it up if they
wanted to play again and most played again.. then I ask one more time and
some will play a 3rd time! Wonderful!! My years of being a traditional
teacher, there was NO HOPE of this type of playing.. they’d only have had
their 2 pieces that we’d practiced for MONTHS that they’d be prepared for
I do plan to go again as the residents loved it and it was a wonderful
experience for the students to give back and to perform.
I love Laurie’s idea of improvising. I used to do a program, but now I make
it more informal and kids just show up and play. I don’t have the kids
announce themselves although that is a possibility. I just find that as a
child the thought of saying something in front of an audience would have
kept me from playing and I have some children that might be a concern.
Laurie Richards, Nebraska
I wanted to mention why I decided to do a program. We used to play in
a dining room during a meal, so we just showed up and played
background music. This year we started playing in the lobby where
they have a nice grand piano, so people come just to listen. At first
I didn’t do a program or have the kids announce themselves. But some
of the residents wanted to know what the pieces were. So the next
time, I had the kids announce their names and songs. But some
mumbled, some were just too quiet, and I don’t think a lot of the
residents could hear them. And, like Carrie said, some were really
uncomfortable with this.
That’s why I decided to try a written program but still keep it
informal and relaxed. The residents really appreciated knowing who
the kids were and what they were playing. Every once in a while a
resident would lose his or her place in the program and ask who the
student was. Some remember a few kids from previous times, and they
like knowing their names.
Of course, it depends too on who you play for. These residents are
still pretty independent and can hold and read and follow along in the
program. We’ve played in an “assisted living” environment where I
don’t think programs would have been helpful.
I just opened it up if they wanted to play again and most played
again. My years of being a traditional teacher, there was NO HOPE
of this type of playing
I think this is one of the things the resident enjoy so much – the
enthusiasm they see. They know the enjoyment is mutual, and they just
Original discussion started December 4, 2009