Playing For Gerry and Rich

by Yasunari Ishii

Keynotes, December, 2006

My partner and I traveled to Portland, Oregan, this year to visit Stuart, a mutual friend. As Stuart has an old antique upright piano, I took some music with me so I could practice while I was there.

Stuart has aging parents whom I haven't seen for almost ten years. I would occasionally hear of them and of their deteriorating health. His mother, Gerry, was recently diagnosed with a serious illness, so Stuart helped his parents relocate to the city-his mother in a nursing home, and his father, Rich, to an apartment in an assisted living facility right next door to the nursing home. This arrangement allows Rich and Gerry to see one another every day and Stuart to visit frequently.

Stuart wanted all of us to visit his parents on Sunday afternoon. He telephoned the nursing home, telling them that a "pianist friend" was visiting and asking if it was O.K. to use the piano. He wanted me to play for his parents. He had already told them that we were going to have a "concert." I was a little taken aback. I didn't have anything ready for such a performance on such a short notice, and that made me uneasy.

But I remembered reading Joyce Morton's article, "Playing for Doris" in a back issue of AMSF's newsletter, Keynotes. In it, Joyce wrote about her experience performing for friends in Florida at a similar facility. She didn't feel prepared but did it anyway, knowing how much it would mean to the people for whom she would be playing. I thought that I should adopt the same positive attitude. So, I began to rehearse on Stuart's old antique piano the pieces I thought I could play well enough to perform.

Sunday afternoon was sunny, and Gerry's room was bright and cheerful. Rich was there, happy to see old friends. After visiting for a while, we got Gerry into a wheelchair and rolled her down the hall to the recreation room. As we walked, I began to get nervous. I could feel everyone's expectations. Furthermore, I had no idea what kind of piano they had, and that increased my anxiety.

In the corner of the recreation room was a big old antique upright piano. My friends pulled up some chairs from along the wall and situated themselves behind me so they could watch me play. The piano was out of tune and wouldn't hold up to some of the pieces that I was planning to play. But I managed some Bach, Chopin, and Brahms. I didn't even know if they liked classical music. The piano did not sound good to me.

Soon it was dinner time and we needed to say good-bye. Stuart told me that his parents were intrigued by my playing and that Rich, especially, was leaning forward and watching intently. He thanked me, saying how much he and his parents appreciated it. In spite of the less than desirable circumstances, I was glad for the encouragement of Joyce's article and that I was able to overcome my reluctance to play. It meant a lot to them, and it meant a lot to me.


AMSF publishes Keynotes, a quarterly newsletter containing articles that educate, that explore issues of technique, performance, and practice, and that inform readers about the AMSF organization and its members. Click here for more Keynotes articles.