I’ve been singing and playing my guitar in public off and on for the past 42 years. I’m lucky enough to be able to memorize everything I play. Looking directly at the audience while performing can forge a precious connection between me and them.
I take no credit for this ability — it’s a gift that was bestowed upon me by fate, and yet, like all gifts, I wonder if it’s mine to keep for life, or will it wear out or get lost? Will there be a day when I get up in front of an audience and the words won’t come and my fingers will fail to move?
One Sunday this summer, I was asked to play during a service at my church along with several other members — including a 93-year-old who studied at Juilliard, taught music at the college level and whose signature accomplishment has been playing Gershwin’s “Rhapsody In Blue” from memory with her eyes closed.
I asked her about it that day, and she told me she no longer plays from memory. I started to commiserate with her, but she didn’t need my sympathy. It was just part of getting older, she explained, sort of like having to use a cane to walk. As we age, “everything changes,” she said, from our hearing to the way we hold our bodies while we play. But just being able to make music is all that matters, she said. “I think it’s why I’ve been here so long. Music keeps me going.”
It was a good lesson in not borrowing trouble — the day my memory fails me may come, but it won’t be the end of the world. It was also a valuable lesson in growing old gracefully. We change throughout our lives — why should our later years be any different?
And I felt better about what I had done that morning — I had written the name of my song on my hand, just to be sure I didn’t play the wrong one. It’s nice to know there’s no shame in needing a little help sometimes.