The other day, I did something I’ve never done before—I attended a Heart & Soul show.
I’ve played in a lot of Heart & Soul shows—about a hundred, over the years. I’ve lugged my upright bass to nursing homes and rehab facilities and even the State Prison, and I’ve had a great time doing it. Now I’m on the board of Heart & Soul, and I volunteered to write this letter. I thought it would be easy to tell you, from my own personal experience, about “the healing power of music.” But then I worried: what do I really know about it? I’ve read about it, and I’ve seen videos of practically vegetative patients coming to life with earphones on—but my own personal experience of Heart & Soul is that it’s fun. I’m up there propping up my big, awkward instrument, trying to play in tune, listening to my bandmates, trading smiles with the residents who’ve come to hear, and it’s a great time. Now, seriously, who’s going to donate money just so that I can have a great time Give Now-->
So I went to somebody else’s show.
It was a sunny, snowy morning, and a jazz trio (bass, piano, sax) was playing Christmas songs for about fifteen residents of a nice assisted living home. I found a seat and opened my notebook and got ready to observe. And immediately I had a problem. The music was just too good. Jazz is the music I love best, and this was jazz I would have paid money to hear in a dark club in Manhattan. I hadn’t escaped my dilemma: I was still having Too Much Fun.
Then I looked around and noticed everyone was having fun. There was no use fighting it. The residents were starting to sway, and calling out suggestions, and singing along when they knew the words. So was I. And the three musicians loved being there, you could tell, loved the music and the occasion and the conversations (musical and otherwise) they were having with each other and with all of us.
To all appearances, the most withdrawn person in the room was the woman in the wheelchair next to me. Her eyes were closed and her head was slumped nearly to her lap. She looked like a round bundle wrapped in a green afghan. But early on, when the bandleader asked for requests, she lifted up her head and called out, “White Christmas!” We got to talking. Her name was Sarah. When she was in high school, she babysat for Frank Sinatra’s children, and he came home from his evening out and sang while she played piano. He wanted her to stay and play for another few hours, but her girlfriend, who was babysitting with her, refused to walk home alone, so Sarah had to say no to Frank Sinatra.
After that, her head went down again. Every so often she’d bob up and ask me, “Did they do White Christmas yet? Did I sleep through it?” Finally, they did get to a slow, but very swinging, White Christmas. Sarah didn’t budge. I put my hand on her shoulder and asked if she was hearing it. She didn’t open her eyes but she smiled a deep smile. “Oh, yes.”
So my quest to find the non-fun side of Heart & Soul ended in failure. If you give money to Heart & Soul, you’re just helping people have fun: people like me, and Sarah, and the blind man who moved his stick back and forth, conducting the music with a wry smile, and Emily, who later confided to me that Sarah always tells that Frank Sinatra story. (Emily also said she loves jazz best of all—she doesn’t go for that new Patti Page “Doggie in the Window” stuff.) I deeply believe that the joy of sharing music is good for everyone involved—is, in fact, healing—but it’s still joy.
Heart & Soul, a unique local non-profit, makes joy happen. We just reached a milestone: one thousand performances in a year. The organization is small and efficient; donated dollars go a long, long way. If you give $150, for example, you’ll be single-handedly sponsoring a show by a trio, possibly one as wonderful as the Dave Bowen trio. You could do it as a monthly gift, a mere (hold on a second) $12.50 a month.
Less is fine: throw a few bucks at Heart & Soul and you’re throwing joy right into the heart of my new friend Sarah. More would be okay, too. Heart & Soul is very grateful for your generosity!
Wishing you joy—
for Heart & Soul