Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Playing the piano at the hospice

I guess without the habit of practice, some things tend to fade away.

As I looked into the repository of draft blog entries in my Blogger, I felt disgusted at their quality and analytical limitations. The sharpness is lost, so they're deleted. Or perhaps there is no more rage that would have inspired another 1,500 to 2,000 word essay.

The past 12 months has made me an empty shell. I left my job, although it would seem an irrational decision since I believe it is possibly the best job I could ever have.

During the 3-week lull period, I got to do a 7-day stint as a volunteer pianist at a hospice. It was purely by chance in my first visit I noticed the existence of the instrument sitting outside the wards. Besides, I thought it would be fun to do something different, while at the same time recharge my batteries.

Despite having only touched the piano for a few minutes every 1 or 2 years in the last 20 years, I wrote to them and asked if I could play for the patients and staff. Thankfully, they thought I was neither crazy nor incompetent, despite the lack of practice and familiarity with the piano.

11 years of formal Electone organ training. Played the guitar since 1996. Been writing and recording songs since 1997. I quietly believed I could do pull it off, although I was initially disappointed at the quality of playing.

Being at the hospice was a sobering experience. I feel there's love, and there's also sadness.

It was a 1-hour shift. My first shift was a difficult 45 minutes.

The lack of practice and conditioning was felt almost immediately. The weighted keys and sustain pedal weren't totally alien, but I knew I needed years of playing to reach the level I desire. My left hand was sluggish and occasionally played the wrong keys, while my right was heavy and a little too ambitious (wanting to simultaneously play both melody and chords).

It wasn't only the fatigue in the forearms and wrists but the choice of songs and the environment that made the first time difficult. Maybe I thought too much of it.

To make things easier, I had transposed most songs to C major key signature, after having listened to them on YouTube to make sure I got the melodies and chords right. Of course, there were the hours of practice.

At every milestone of a song, I would tell myself I was talented and "it" would come back to me. But of course, that would have ignored the reality of 11 years of grind that sharpened my aural abilities. Fortunately, that compensated for my lack of conditioning on the piano, and of course, the use of the sustain pedal to patch over the weak playing of the left hand and the use of arpeggios on the right - a piano hack? I don't know.

Tomorrow's the last of the 7-day stint. Been clocking 1.5 hours in the last few sessions although the soreness is there.

It's still a hospice, and I always have a heavy heart walking into the premises and sitting myself down by the piano. But as a volunteer putting in a 1 to 1.5-hour shift, I knew my role was to do my best to make the environment relaxing and enjoyable for the patients, staff and other volunteers.

Looking forward to playing tomorrow again, and will probably miss doing it after that.

Here's the whole set (in no particular order):

Malay Songs:
Di Tanjong Katong
Chan Mali Chan
Burung Kakak Tua
Rasa Sayang
Bengawan Solo

Chinese Songs:
小人物的心生 (or is it 声?)

Miscellaneous Singaporean Songs:
Count on Me Singapore
Stand up for Singapore
Singapura, Oh Singapura

Beatles numbers:
The Long and Winding Road
Across the Universe
I Wanna Hold Your Hand
8 Days a Week
Let It Be
Hey Jude
You Won't See Me
Imagine (by Lennon, of course)

Other Rock/pop numbers:
We are the Champions (by Queen)
Don't Look Back in Anger (by Oasis)
Yellow (by Coldplay)
The Wild Ones (by Suede)
Leave a Light On (by Belinda Carlisle)
My Heart Will Go On (by Celine Dion)
Let It Go (from Frozen)
I Do I Do I Do I Do (by Abba)
Shanty (by The Quests)
Julie Tearjerky (by Eraserheads)
Sabai Sabai (by Bird Thongchai)
That Thing You Do (from the movie of the same name)

Moon River
Love Me Tender
Somewhere Over the Rainbow
You Belong to Me
When You Wish Upon a Star
Don't Know Why
Dream a Little Dream

Theme from New York New York
Mack the Knife

Doodles and Fillers:
Theme from Super Mario Brothers
Young Men (by Suede)
Strawberry Fields Forever (by The Beatles)
Champagne Supernova (by Oasis)

No comments: