I recently responded to a theater friends request to “accompany her” on a visit to a Senior Assisted Living Center, located several blocks from my home. I thought, “What fun…and how more convenient could it be, to do a friend a solid?” She even offered to pay me.

I arrived at the center’s entrance to meet my friend Penny, a peppy and vivacious life-long actress. We hugged, she pressed $50 into my hand and we followed a staffer into the foyer, then community room. I moved over to the piano, put down my knapsack and began to greet the group of perhaps 25, gathered for a monthly afternoon songfest.

Penny had e-mailed, asking if I wanted to get together and go over the material. I felt comfortable with my ability to join in on songs and said “Let’s just wing it.”

It’s now 3 PM and show time. Penny suggests that I move behind the piano. I tell her, “No need, Penny, I’m fine here…” and with a startled awareness realize that Penny thinks I can play a piano! I say, “God no, Penny!” I’m smiling and cringing, all at the same time

(See, I tend to be pretty literal…and I’ve had a lot on my mind, lately;) I thought that Penny was looking for someone to accompany her on a visit to this Tarzana facility; accompany – meaning “to go with”. And sing some…

For the next hour, much that is memorable and amusing ensued …but nothing will ever compare to that hilarious, initial moment of clarity! “What we have here…is a failure to communicate.”

It’s now 3:02. There are several thick library books of show tunes and nostalgic music that Penny has bookmarked with strips of newspaper…for her accompanist. Penny (bless her, a trooper for many decades), unflinchingly goes to Plan B. She introduces and then sings a Gershwin tune, garnering much applause. (Penny once sang opera and on Broadway.) These are old tunes from the 30’s and 40’s and some of the seniors chime in. I’m reading lyrics and music, offering a baritone melody or a harmony whenever it feels familiar.

We’ve now done about 8 songs. I look at my watch. It’s 3:15. Dear God! I realize that Penny is singing non-stop, without an accompanist to give her bridges and a moment to rest. I gotta find something that I can sing to give her a break. I find a song from Porgy and Bess, “It Ain’t Necessarily So”, introduce it and begin. It doesn’t suck;) But it’s done, much too soon. Penny, dead game, is now doing tunes from Oklahoma, for which I find an occasional harmony.

At the half-way mark, I persuade Penny to let me try some Beatles, specifically, Yellow Submarine. That generates little participation but does seem to give them pleasure. I realize that however much music we’ve enjoyed in our lives, the music that endures and remains cherished is that music connected to our individual “coming of age”.

We filled the hour with song and banter…and at 4 PM, I returned Penny’s $50, with relief and some chagrin. I’m told the bubbies enjoyed our session. Penny later generously purchased my ticket for Rogue Machines benefit.

I will try manfully, in the future to read more carefully;)

10 May 2010