A meaningful conversation
Updated: Feb 2
Musician: Nat Keen (guitar)
Songwriting is good for the soul and potentially also good for improving memory?. I am no near-scientist and this is simply my impression of things but, as Big J and I sat down together and sang through his songs without any prompting from his lyrics sheet I thought to myself, something interesting is happening here. When I began working with JR many months ago, his lack of ability to recall lyrics proved a challenge and appeared quite tiring for him. These days it's a very different story. I put this observation to him and his response was 'yeah, I get confused when words are written down but they're all there in my head!'. We sang through his three of his hits: ’Mother', 'Why Does Love Hurt So Much’? and the as-yet unreleased ‘Friends'. With his lyrics sheet lost, I instructed him, “Now you can concentrate on the performance element, eye contact with the audience and plenty of expressive arm movements!”
Next up, as promised I knocked on SR's door. Last week had been very special as she'd felt comfortable enough in her private space to express herself and convey how significant music was in her life. I'd promised to return and we spent a good while playing songs and talking about them. At one point I played a favourite of mine called 'Georgie' (an old Appalachian mountain song derived from a British Isles ballad). SR listened with intent, occasionally yelping and gasping as the sad tale weaved and ducked from hope to despair. She was so invested in the story that she even offered up an alternative ending to the traditional sad one in which the principle protagonist meets his end at the gallows. In SR's version, things are much rosier “I was actually hoping that they could get married instead”. After the song had finished I played some exploratory and textural guitar improvisation to which she began gazing out of the window, clearly deep in thought;
SR 'Sorry, I was a bit lost in that'
NK 'Me too, i like getting lost, did it make you think of anything?'
SR 'I thought of a sad woman'
I then visited JB and her partner Sadik who both made me feel very welcome as usual. As she drank her tea, we played songs and looked at lovely photos of her family. Along with Sadik's dedicated rehabilitation work with her, music seems to be helping JB to widen her vocabulary which is exciting to observe. Apart from this, her joy at hearing live music each week is written all over her face and reflected back to me as I play.
After playing for a few more residents, I made my way out but couldn't resist playing for KN. Instead of singing conventional songs, I began to follow the rhythms and textures of her vocalisations with my own voice, matching and extending her sounds whilst offering her new musical ideas to take us in new directions. She walked towards me and stood close and we began to improvise together for around ten minutes in what felt like a meaningful conversation.
Today I visited a new resident of Bridgeside Lodge, and one of note. P is a renowned educator, author and lover of music. I arrived at his door and peeked in to see a man in full relaxation mode (fast asleep in his chair!), my technique in these scenarios is to either let them enjoy slumbering and about turn down the corridor...... or, to gently strum some guitar chords from the corridor and see if ears are pricked. As I gradually increased my strums from very delicate to medium delicate, I observed the beginnings of a stirring inside the room, heavy eye lids being willed up and eventually a warm grin of recognition. This was my second session with P, last week we'd had fun getting to know each other, playing songs with me rabbiting on about various stories I'd hoped he might find interesting. This time I played a range of songs from Appalachian folk to Leonard Cohen to Dolly Parton's 'Jolene’ which P mouthed some of the lyrics to and generally appeared animated and engaged. We both agreed that we were drawn to melancholic music and devised a system in which he could tailor his musical experience slightly by me offering him one outstretched arm for reflective, melancholic music, and the other indicating a more upbeat uplifting direction. The session flew by and I look forward to our next one.