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  • Writer's pictureNathaniel Keen

Cake-powered cycling

Musicians: Nat Keen (guitar) Ben Hazleton (double bass)

The day started for Ben and I in the testing room (a.k.a the lounge that leads out to the garden). This room has been a useful space for us musicians to interact and get to know the family members of the residents. Sometimes we're able to chat and discover more about their lives and also undertake some detective work in finding out some musical artists/styles that may be appealing. Occasionally it's been nice to play for both the visitor and to the visited, sometimes alleviating tension, nervousness, frustration and also providing a positive experience that both can share in. On this occasion we were able to play for the wife of resident D, as she seemed to be dealing with a frustratingly long wait to see her husband. We invited her to listen for a while, and she sat calmly, letting the music temporarily whisk her away as a lovely staff member made her a cup of tea.

Today we visited lots of residents, including a joyful reggae jam with J, a political slander blues from JC, and a hoedown with M. BSL activity coordinator Yvette had cooked an amazing meal which we enjoyed and then under-scored with the help of Bob Marley expert J.

I'd now like to focus on our time spent with the lovely Jane who happened to be celebrating her birthday!

As we entered her room she was being treated like a queen by her carers and as they made way for us to enter, I noticed an attractive looking box of chocolates which Jane seemed to re-discover with plenty of enthusiasm. After playing her happy birthday we decided to get her involved in a collaboration. In previous weeks/months I'd been teaching her 'Ah Robin' (an ancient English song) and today I thought it would be nice to learn a song from the canon of folk music that would have made its way across the Atlantic with the English/Irish/Scottish settlers in the United States all those years ago. The song in question was 'Shady Grove' which originated as 'Matty Groves' from England. I'd learnt 'Shady Grove' from videos of one of my favourite American folk singers Doc Watson and appreciated its simple and very catchy modal melody.

It seemed like a perfect melody to teach Jane and also Ben who chimed in with some lovely vocals and bass. We started slowly, like a reflective ballad as everybody learnt the short repeating tune and after a few times through we'd ramped it up into a frenzy. Jane seemed to enjoy singing with us and took a keen interest in learning about the roots of the music.

Later as we were leaving BSL we were asked to come back in for a surprise reprisal of happy birthday in the kitchen area with lots of staff there to join in the celebrations, another guest who turned up was a massive sugary cake. Those calories certainly helped me to engage my after-burners whilst cycling home. Thanks Jane, happy birthday.

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