• Nathaniel Keen

Chuckling and chin-wagging

Musician: Nat Keen (guitar)

Occasionally some of our most interesting and meaningful work happens before we've even reached our intended destination. The room leading to the garden where us musicians leave our bags/cases for the day is a good example of this. This is the space that visitors congregate in to do their testing and form-filling before going up to see loved ones or heading out into the garden for some vitamin D. I often end up prolonging my stay there and sit down to play some songs, hoping to provide a relaxing setting but also encourage interaction and conversations. When music is played in this setting it instantly disarms any tension and acts as a leveller, a bridge between the various groups in the room and a catalyst for communication. Today was a prime example of this happening.


I'd finished my testing, dropped off my case and prepared to make my way towards the private rooms for some music when Resident S arrived being assisted by her daughter. They'd barely squeezed the wheelchair through the narrow door to enjoy the sun before performing a rapid 180 degree turn, complaining of blustery winds. Back in the tranquility of the room I suggested that I could play some songs for them until things calmed down outside. I began to play some folky songs from Doc Watson and the sound waves must have drifted into JG's room as within 30 seconds she'd wondered over and made her self comfortable on the sofa opposite sporting a large grin. Remembering that S was fond of Jazz I began 'A Nightengale sang in Berkeley Square', this worked well as it's a favourite of JG's also. The two of them began to sing together and S became visibly moved. We talked about the magical quality of the song and its ability to conjure up a strong feeling of nostalgia, something that even affects a relative youngster like me born in the mid 1980's. Whilst we'd been playing this song JC had made her way through to the garden to enjoy the sun, for the second time I thought how nice it would be for S to meet JC. The two of them had both lived in central London in the late 1950's, loved Frank Sinatra and seen him play on several occasions at the Palladium. I carried on playing for S, this time some Bossa Nova, she sat there soaking up the music and gently moving her head in time. As soon as I'd finished she said...


'I'm getting my voice back slowly, talking and everything

“Why is that'?

'Well before, I couldn't speak, I couldn't walk, they didn't know what was wrong with me'

'And what's helping?, talking more? singing?'

'Yeah, and your playing is lovely'

'Do you feel like it helps?'

'I do'


After this S was joined by her two cousins, they sat on either side of her holding her hand and we talked about London in the 60's, how one one the cousins had got caught up in Beatle-mania and once fainted from the hysteria


'I didn't really know what was going on, everybody was screaming so I just joined in and ran after them, next thing I knew I woke up in a bed with nurses around me'


We all sang one of my favourite Beatles songs 'And I Love Her' which they all joined in with.

After a while I felt like it was time to visit some other residents but I quickly made a point of introducing JC to the family and with the sentence 'you both like Sinatra...' they were away!....

I went up to see AS who'd I missed on several occasions due to afternoon napping (hers, not mine). I was keen to finally show her some photos of my trip to her Iberian home land as well as playing her some accompanying flamenco tasters. She was very impressed with the photos, however she noted that I was a little bit 'Gordito' (which I think translates as little fatty). That would be an accurate observation with the amount of churros con chocolate I'd been scoffing.

She mentioned that she'd been energised by the recent Queen's Jubilee barbecue which had been accompanied by Spitz musicians. Enthusiastically she described (in spanglish) the musicians that she'd seen and heard...


'There was a bonita singer my darling, con una hermosa voz!

Mi gusta very much my darling'


At the end of the session I went back down to find S, her daughter, JC, JG, the two cousins and a son-in-law, all still there, chin-wagging and chuckling about this and that!

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