Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Group Writing: Cowgirl Band Serves Others

 

They came tumbling into the building pape and plastic bags strewn along the hallway, guitars under their arms, and energy to spare; they were close to the same ages as the patients they would be entertaining. I didn’t realize at the time that they were going where I was going, to the Memory Unit. I was going for my weekly visit to see my hospice patient whom I’d been seeing for several months; they were going to entertain the patients with their musical act.

As musicians and singers go, they were not the most talented bunch. But they made up for their lack of skills with enthusiasm and joy. They were dressed in cowboy hats and boots. They’d brought colorful Halloween leis for every person in attendance. They weren’t always sure of the words of their songs, or the chords they intended to play on their two guitars, so they had small poster boards filled with the lyrics to help them along the way.

We were treated to This Land is Your Land, God Bless America, and a Spanish song; I can’t remember its name, but everyone (including me) joined in on the chorus with a raucous, “Ay-yi-yi-yi!” That song was clearly their biggest hit. They sang one Beatle song and donned colorful wigs to imitate the Fab Four. It was quite the show!

To give some background on this story, every Friday the patients are treated to music. Often the performers are former professionals, bring their amps and computers, and sing along with the music, and the performers are pretty good. I’m not sure what happened on this Friday, but it was certainly . . . different.

The singers lost track of the words, sometimes sang in a different key than they played on their guitars, but never stopped their efforts to entertain the patients and always encouraged them to sing along if they knew the words. If the patients liked a song, they sang it twice. When they ran out of songs, one of them suggested Christmas songs, and asked the group for suggestions: Jingle Bells and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer were at the top of the list, and we all sang loudly. I didn’t quite know what to think about the performance, and wondered if they were a quickly hired replacement act, or if they’d just wandered in.

Then I stopped indulging my critical mind.

Who did I think I was to stand in judgment of these women who had given up their time to entertain these patients? They probably knew that music is a wonderful way to engage dementia patients; the patients were delighted by their presence and excited by their act and often joined in. The cowgirls walked around the room introducing themselves, asking the names of the patients, shaking or taking their hands in their own, making eye contact and always, always speaking with the joy of being alive. All the cowgirls lived in the same 55+ development as I did, although we didn’t know each other. One of them had her own mother in that unit, and I knew her mother, who was a sweet, friendly woman.

My initial reaction of puzzlement and judgment melted away as I realized what a sweet gift the cowgirls had given these patients. Clearly, the patients knew what they’d been offered and treasured their performance.

As I realized what I had just witnessed, so did I.

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There are 15 comments.

  1. Arahant Member

    Susan Quinn: and a Spanish song; I can’t remember its name, but everyone (including me) joined in on the chorus with a raucous, “Ay-yi-yi-yi!”

    • #1
    • November 7, 2019, at 6:52 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  2. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn: and a Spanish song; I can’t remember its name, but everyone (including me) joined in on the chorus with a raucous, “Ay-yi-yi-yi!”

    That’s it! Thanks, @arahant! We weren’t as good, but we were loud!

    • #2
    • November 7, 2019, at 6:57 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  3. Arahant Member

    “Cielo” means heaven (or sky), but can be used as an endearment. Cielito means “little heaven,” and “lindo” is pretty. So, it might be translated as “Pretty Little Love.”

    But it always reminds me of another song with Cielo in the name: Red Sky:

    • #3
    • November 7, 2019, at 6:59 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  4. Arahant Member

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    We weren’t as good, but we were loud!

    It works.

    • #4
    • November 7, 2019, at 7:03 AM PST
    • 1 like
  5. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    It always takes the patients a while to warm up. They are fragile and often shy. So when they are engaged so that they are singing boisterously, with smiles, (especially for them), it’s wonderful.

    • #5
    • November 7, 2019, at 7:08 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  6. Franco Member

    Well, who am I to criticize from afar in the face of such a forgiving and kind post, but here goes:

    If you are going to perform something, you should prepare. You should respect your audience. It’s not a matter of ‘talent’. Plenty of professional performers don’t posses an abundance of talent. You can learn to sing, learn to play chords on the guitar and memorize words. It’s called practice. Respect your audience! Otherwise donate your ‘talents’ in a different medium. 

    Do people who don’t know how to cook make a meal for everyone, and we are supposed to appreciate the ‘time’ they put in? They don’t know how to select the right ingredients, don’t know how to prepare, have little or no experience cooking and they presume to volunteer to cook for our supposed benefit?

    My issue comes from the myth that people are born with “talent”. To some extent this is true but it’s also a very detrimental meme. People try something, even at a young age, and quickly give up saying they have “no talent”. It’s not that simple. And this comes from magical thinking – that somehow if you pick up a guitar and don’t sound good immediately you lack ‘talent’.
    It’s insulting to the hard work that people do in these fields. It is usually not in the spirit of appreciation, because these people think being good at something is some natural trait they simply lack.

    There are many people who developed their talents over many years who are world famous who might have leaned on this excuse when they first encountered difficulties, but didn’t. It’s hard to play the guitar adequately, but almost anyone can do it with some practice and determination. You might not be Andre Segovia, but you can play three chords in tune, and sing a simple song.

    As well, there are many extremely talented people who never “made it” because they were missing other crucial qualities.

    And here we apparently have the opposite problem. No self-criticism and apparently no attempt to honor the art or medium they chose to provide service. 

    • #6
    • November 7, 2019, at 8:20 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  7. Franco Member

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    It always takes the patients a while to warm up. They are fragile and often shy. So when they are engaged so that they are singing boisterously, with smiles, (especially for them), it’s wonderful.

    But it’s great the patients had a good time and maybe the amateurish presentation gave them license to transcend self-judgement.

    I have to admit I was triggered by one other thing:

    This land is your land , is an American communist folk tune. It’s also a really stupid song musically.

    I would have had to leave…

    But good for you, Susan!

     

    • #7
    • November 7, 2019, at 8:26 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  8. Arahant Member

    Franco (View Comment):
    But it’s great the patients had a good time and maybe the amateurish presentation gave them license to transcend self-judgement.

    I suspect this is the case. Sometimes being perfect isn’t perfect.

    • #8
    • November 7, 2019, at 8:32 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  9. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    Franco (View Comment):
    And here we apparently have the opposite problem. No self-criticism and apparently no attempt to honor the art or medium they chose to provide service. 

    Oh, @franco, don’t be such a party pooper! Actually, I can’t argue at all with your points. I doubt these women took a job away from anyone, and they may have just filled in at the last minute. I hope they aren’t “regulars,” but I don’t make that decision. And I appreciate very much your commitment to your art and to the field of music.

    • #9
    • November 7, 2019, at 9:40 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  10. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    Franco (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    It always takes the patients a while to warm up. They are fragile and often shy. So when they are engaged so that they are singing boisterously, with smiles, (especially for them), it’s wonderful.

    But it’s great the patients had a good time and maybe the amateurish presentation gave them license to transcend self-judgement.

    I have to admit I was triggered by one other thing:

    This land is your land , is an American communist folk tune. It’s also a really stupid song musically.

    I would have had to leave…

    But good for you, Susan!

     

    I wasn’t there for the “entertainment”; I was there to be with my patient. Otherwise I probably would have left! Still, I did like seeing my patient enjoying them like everyone else.

    • #10
    • November 7, 2019, at 9:41 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  11. Franco Member

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Franco (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    It always takes the patients a while to warm up. They are fragile and often shy. So when they are engaged so that they are singing boisterously, with smiles, (especially for them), it’s wonderful.

    But it’s great the patients had a good time and maybe the amateurish presentation gave them license to transcend self-judgement.

    I have to admit I was triggered by one other thing:

    This land is your land , is an American communist folk tune. It’s also a really stupid song musically.

    I would have had to leave…

    But good for you, Susan!

     

    I wasn’t there for the “entertainment”; I was there to be with my patient. Otherwise I probably would have left! Still, I did like seeing my patient enjoying them like everyone else.

    I want you as my nurse! I’ll just say, wheel me outa here! 

    • #11
    • November 7, 2019, at 10:07 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  12. Clifford A. Brown Contributor

    Yippy ki-yay! Susan beat me to questionable quality music, but in such a sweet way!

    This is part of our November series on the theme: “Service.” Mosey on over and sign up for your own post.

    • #12
    • November 7, 2019, at 2:08 PM PST
    • 1 like
  13. CarolJoy, Above Top Secret Coolidge

    Thank you for sharing this. It made my day. As it must have made the lives of those patients so much brighter.

    Your reaction to the cowgirl band reminded me of the very first time I ever saw Julia Child on TV. She was whipping away at a bowl of eggs, explaining in the way only Julia could explain, that “you beat your eggs the way you beat your children: firmly and with a stiff hand.”

    I truly thought this woman was a one day replacement for the Julia Child of French cuisine of whom I had heard so much.

    Next I wondered if the TV station who employed her would let her substitute the next time the real Julia was out sick. And then I realized it had really been her: you don’t have to act all starch-y and proper to keep an audience involved. Enthusiasm can never be over-rated.

    • #13
    • November 7, 2019, at 3:02 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  14. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    CarolJoy, Above Top Secret (View Comment):

    Thank you for sharing this. It made my day. As it must have made the lives of those patients so much brighter.

    Your reaction to the cowgirl band reminded me of the very first time I ever saw Julia Child on TV. She was whipping away at a bowl of eggs, explaining in the way only Julia could explain, that “you beat your eggs the way you beat your children: firmly and with a stiff hand.”

    I truly thought this woman was a one day replacement for the Julia Child of French cuisine of whom I had heard so much.

    Next I wondered if the TV station who employed her would let her substitute the next time the real Julia was out sick. And then I realized it had really been her: you don’t have to act all starch-y and proper to keep an audience involved. Enthusiasm can never be over-rated.

    So true, @CarolJoy! I agree –enthusiasm can never be over-rated. 

    • #14
    • November 7, 2019, at 3:18 PM PST
    • 1 like
  15. Percival Thatcher

    Eh, I’ve shanghaied musicians into impromptu caroling gigs at retirement homes a time or two. Get them in the door with the idea that “we’ll do five or six then vamoose.” Stay while they do half the tunes in the book, with encores of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.”

    I regret nothing.

    • #15
    • November 7, 2019, at 5:08 PM PST
    • 3 likes