Alternative Venues: Part One – Senior Living

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by Jan Seides
Monday 4th January, 2016, 2:06pm

For those trying to make their living as live musicians in these days of streaming music, there may seem to be a dwindling number of opportunities. However, there are opportunities in places that few think to look. Touring musicians, in particular, may be able to fill in dates on their tours with some of them, since as we all know, on a tour, if you are not playing, you are paying. In may of these places, you can offer workshops and/or lessons as well as performances. This series of installments on this blog are about those hidden and semi-hidden opportunities.

We’ll begin with:


Facilities for seniors can mean Residential or Day facilities.  We’ll begin with Day facilities, sometimes called “Senior Centers”, which offer drop-in activities, such as gym and swimming, counseling and health support, art, crafts, and music, life-long learning classes, and sometimes meal service. There is also what is called “Adult Day Care” for adults with physical or mental issues. There is usually an activity director, and since the Senior Centers are often run by the city they have a budget to spend on performances of various sorts, though not a large one. This also means that the city probably can tell you whom to contact at each Senior Center.

Screen shot 2016-01-04 at 1.57.10 PMThe first tier of residential facilities is often called  “Independent Living”. These are often, but not always  resort-like, sometimes having condos,or cottages with common dining and activities areas. The residents are usually self-sufficient, and may do some of the planning, though there is usually an activities director.  A performer may find themselves in the dining area, or on a regular stage. Of all the possibilities, these are the ones that will feel the most like a regular performance anywhere. Sun City, for example, has a full auditorium, with people acting as stage hands and sound personnel.

Second tier would be  “Assisted Living” for people who require some kind of support, but are still fairly independent. There will be an Activities Director here who will arrange performance and other events several times a week. These could also include classes and workshops, but you’ll want even performances to be pretty interactive.Screen shot 2016-01-04 at 1.57.45 PM

“Nursing Homes”, the third tier, are people who require a great deal of support, and have not got a lot of mobility. The Activities Director will probably arrange to have performance events in a central gathering place like a dining room or lounge, and the residents who often be in wheelchairs, so there will be attendants in your audience as well.  There is also “Memory Care” or “Memory Unit” in many Nursing Home settings for those with Alzheimer’s, Dementia, and other mental health issues. They will  have strict supervision and their ability to interact will be very limited.  Your performance will be much more basic, and many in your audience will not respond, and may even fall asleep.

Finally, there are the “End of Life” care facilities, and hospice. Music is still very important to these residents, and your concerts will often be beside a bed. These can be among the most rewarding of playing situations, but they are not to everyone’s taste or ability. But … A study in the Journal of Advanced Nursing found that listening to music can reduce chronic pain up to 21%, and reduce depression by up to 25%. Other studies have linked music to lowering blood pressure and anxiety in hospital patients. If you can do this, you will be performing a great service to those for whom you play.

What to play:

Your performance may include one or more of these:

Screen shot 2016-01-04 at 1.59.04 PM

  • Singing
  • Talking about past memories, including memory games
  • Physical interaction by playing simple percussion instruments
  • Simple Dancing
  • Performers engaging seniors in conversation after the performance

Activity Directors often prefer that your performance be tied to holidays or special occasions. For example, Christmas, Halloween, Fourth of July, May Day, Valentine’s Day, etc. Every day is some kind of holiday. Google it before you plan your performance.  You’ll want to give your listeners a sense of continuity from their formerly private lives.  Entertainment makes the transition to living in a retirement community more pleasant for all residents.  For some residents who seek greater social interaction and mental stimulation, the ready availability of quality entertainment can be a deciding factor when selecting a retirement community.

A lot of people who are currently residents in facilities like those described above, are people who grew up singing in folk clubs and coffee houses, parties, in the hallways at school, even with the television (Remember “Follow the bouncing ball!”?) If you play songs from about the 30s to 60s, you’re pretty sure to have audience members singing with you. Smile a lot, talk to your audience, let them sing (In fact, invite them to do so.) Interaction is the most important thing in these performances.





Category: Gigs, Music, This ‘n’ That, Uncategorized

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