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  • Writer's pictureNathaniel Keen

Warm & kind, an operatic superstar

Updated: Sep 7, 2021

Musician: Nat Keen (guitar)

There is a resident who I notice every time I'm in the garden [resident A]. He paces up and down with the assistance of his walking aid near the railings at the far end. I've often wondered whether he enjoys engaging with others at BSL or if he'd enjoy hearing some music. Before entering the building to start my visits I sat next to him for a while and played. It seemed right to sit a short away from him as the seemed less comfortable being in close proximity. When residents are less verbally or physically expressive it can sometimes be difficult to understand how they are receiving and experiencing what we play. As he sat listening and slowly closed his eyes, I hoped that he enjoyed the sounds in his own way.

Walking back through the lounge, I shared a hello with resident DB. We recently learnt that he has Huntington's disease and that one of the symptoms was an increasing withdrawal from social engagement, so even a "hello" in passing is a significant thing. In recent weeks I've been trying to find ways to play music for DB whilst respecting his need to potentially remove himself at any moment. Slowly establishing a connection in which he feels completely safe seems to be aiding this progression. His wife mentioned that he adores music, so bit by bit I hope to build on this connection.

Later that day I would raucously jig and dance Scottish reels with SI and write a pensive ballad with JC empathising with the plight of Afghan refugees.

I spent a long while with GB, who I've been visiting now for what must be a year. I've always felt GB's warmth and kindness during my visits and it's been difficult to see him become weaker in recent months. It was great to see him sitting up, sporting a cheeky grin and beautifully chatting away in French with me trying to catch the odd word or phrase here or there. I didn't really comprehend the monologue but I think it was directed at the horses lining up for a race on tv and his general appreciation of the animal kingdom. I played some of my favourite jazz ballads for him, 'Body and Soul', 'Darn that Dream', 'Round Midnight' and of course, his favourite and the first jazz song I learnt on the guitar; 'A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square'. The last time I'd played this song with him, we'd spent a while afterwards reading the lyrics together and he'd cried at the words and the memories they triggered. This time he was intent on singing a capella and would periodically burst into a new verse, flitting between French and English with full commitment and conviction. His ability to sing with such power is very impressive, considering the frailty of his body. He always says that he never had any form of musical experience in his life but I can imagine him as an operatic superstar in post-war Paris.


In the Spring of 2020, resident A chatted to Spitz musician Laurence Corns about his career working as a french polisher in the East End of London. Here's Laurence, along with Marcus Bonfanti performing the resulting song, "Shiner" at Bridgeside Lodge in October 2020

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