We entered the grey building from the back, where we had barely found a spot to park the car.
“Are you sure you want to take this entrance?” asked the Dutch guitarist suspiciously.
“Why not?” I noticed it looked like a door for staff only. “What does it say?”
“It says morgue in Dutch.”
“You mean, dead bodies?”
It suddenly dawned on me why we were invited a second time to give a memorial concert at a large nursing home in Amsterdam a year ago. They held such concerts four times a year. Those were sombre events preceded by dinner with the staff. I had played the piano solo version of my Elegy there. They loved the slow movement of Chopin’s piano concerto in E minor.
Do the residents know this is their last stop on earth? Will our music make any difference?
When we go and shake their hands afterwards, we could sense they’re trying to tell us something with their watery eyes and lingering grips.
In the early days, we’d try very hard to get to know the residents at the smaller elderly homes, some as few as a handful of well-dressed octogenarians. We would greet them and chat with them while sharing tea and snacks together. Those were cozy settings in stately homes a few hundred years old. After a year of driving two hours each way to villages near the German border and appearing at the same homes once a month, we abandoned our futile attempts to bond with these nearly forgotten citizens.
What we could be sure of, from those visits, was that live music did indeed make a difference. It released them from the present. They spoke with their eyes. Conversations didn’t matter. They chose to remember the long ago past, before we were born.