All Present Song Circle knows so many songs that we can’t get through them all in a session so last week we started at the back of the song sheets. That was a bit of a mistake in that the sheets are confusing enough without having to work through them backwards. The singers have a way of fidgeting with their sheets between songs so they lose their places. I’ve re-worked the sheets four times trying to make them dementia friendly and I still haven’t got the right scheme.
Jim dangled his 24-page songsheet by one page and and gave me A Look.
“What?” I said. “You’re looking at me like you think I’m crazy.”
“You are. So am I.”
“It’s kind of nice, isn’t it?”
Jim always wants to sing “The Old Rugged Cross.” I told him that when I was studying voice and learning to sing Handel and Rossetti, I’d go home to my parents and demonstrate “Una voce poco fa” or “Let the Bright Seraphim.” My mother would say, “Now sing ‘The Old Rugged Cross.’”
I never sang it for my mother, but I’ve sung it with Jim three times. We only sing one verse. I haven’t let on that I can’t get the other three out of my memory.
Jim seems to know every song I’ve thrown out there.
“You’re amazing,” I told him. “I know verses to gruesome hymns from growing up going to church three times a week and you know every word of Chattanooga Choo Choo.”
Most of the members of All Present are in their 70’s but there are a few from my generation. Ex-flower children who want to sing Joan Baez and Dylan. Roger especially wanted Dylan songs. I asked him for titles.
“I can’t think of any right now, but I have a book at home.”
“Can you bring the book? All I really need are titles. I probably know all of the songs.”
Quizzically: “You didn’t get that in church.”
The last group on the song sheets are songs from musicals like Guys and Dolls, The Music Man, and My Fair Lady. Last week The Other Jim and I sang “If I Loved You” from Carousel. The Other Jim has one of those golden tenor voices with Wagnerian power behind it. I had penciled in some harmony notes for me and did my best to blend with him. What emerged was unexpected and moving.
The Other Jim punched the air. “Yes!!” he exclaimed. He still had it. He could sing!
When we sing songs like “Over the Rainbow,” “You’ll Never Walk Alone” (and especially “O Danny Boy”) we take inventory of who is crying and who needs a tissue.
“You’re so bad to make us sing these!” Helene said this week, tears running down her face. She was beaming.
The next song was “Shall We Dance” from The King and I. I grabbed Larry who was sitting on the end of the circle. “Dance with me,” I said. Too late I realized he needed a cane to balance but he held on to me with his other hand and we danced. Not quite like Deborah Kerr and Yul Brenner, but that’s a dance enshrined on film. This was now.
That’s their great gift to me: All Present is just that. It’s just for now. It’s not for a performance later; it’s not to record and listen to. It’s just for that hour and a half when we sing and we can’t stop smiling at each other.
This first series is almost over. We have one more session and then we sing on Saturday, April 26 at the Dementia Talent Show at the Ravenna Senior Center between 2:00–4:00 PM. The public is invited. They’ve given us a whole half hour. At first I wondered what we would do, but then it came to me. Of course. We will be All Present. We will sing the songs we like the best, and we’ll do whatever occurs to us to do. We may dance, we may cry, we may be crazy, but we won’t miss being present in the moment. That’s more than just kind of nice.