A Special Classical Violin Concert for Ed
“Please wear a tux,” I said over the phone to the classical violinist I was hiring to play a special concert for Ed. My dear friend, Teresa, had hatched the idea. She’d called CCM and found a violinist, Don Hurd, who did freelance work. As I was talking to Don to make the arrangements, I described Ed’s dementia, adding that he had been a college professor who loved classical ‘moo-sic.’
I was nervous about the whole plan, worrying that Ed might be in a bad mood and tell Don to leave. He still had an occasional temper outburst. That was always on my mind whenever I was inviting people to visit Ed. After fretting about it, I decided to take the chance and go ahead despite my reservations. The concert would either bring Ed great joy or be a total disaster. That was just the way it was when you were dealing with a demented person.
I arrived early so I could be sure Ed was shaved and dressed. In the hallway I ran into the hospice nurse, Ruby, just leaving after her weekly visit with Ed. She was around 5’ 8” and weighed about 120. So her physique was just about identical to Ed’s. She wore very thick glasses and her exceedingly thin face made me think of a sweet little bird. And she was sweet. One of the sweetest people I ever met.
“How is he today, Ruby?” I asked expectantly.
“He was asleep sitting on the sofa when I got here, but I woke him up and we had a great visit. I let him explore all the compartments in my briefcase like you suggested. I have to admit I was surprised. He loved it, just like you said he would.”
I laughed. I’d told her at our initial meeting that few things made Ed happier than exploring pockets and compartments in suitcases, briefcases or even purses. She’d looked at me like I was a little crazy.
“By the way, I’m going to call the Romance Languages Department at UC and see if I can get a student volunteer to come out and talk with him in French,” she told me.
“That sounds great,” I said.
“Well, I’ve got to run. I have another resident to see over in the Gardens.”
The Gardens. The place they go to die.
When I arrived at Ed’s room I was relieved to see Janelle had him shaved and nicely dressed in a light blue shirt and his grey tweed sport coat, the one with leather patches on the elbows. Believe it or not, it was the same sport coat he was wearing the day Guido introduced us way back in 1975.
While we waited for Don, I sat on the sofa with Ed. We talked about the conversation he’d had with his father the previous evening. Of course he hadn’t had any such conversation, but at this stage of his illness, I’d always try to connect with him in whatever time period he seemed to live. I glanced at my watch, which told me Don was late, and I wondered if he’d gotten lost or delayed in traffic. After ten minutes or so I went to the lobby to see if maybe he was waiting for me there.
What I saw amazed me. Don was there alright, his tuxedo making his svelte physique appear even slimmer. His round face, pale blue eyes and thinning blond hair stood out against the black tux. He was standing in the middle of the huge lobby, violin tucked under his chin, playing Brahms’ Lullaby. Carol stood a few feet away, wearing the same off-white sweater she’d been wearing every time I’d seen her, her teddy bear cradled in her arms. I greeted Don and he shushed me. “Don’t wake the teddy bear,” he whispered, sounding serious but with a twinkle in his eyes. Carol looked radiant. I could tell Don had an amazing aptitude for entertaining dementia patients. Maria, wearing a burgundy pants suit with a pink frilly blouse that flattered her olive complexion, was observing all this from her receptionist desk. She winked at me and I smiled back.
When the lullaby was finished, I introduced myself to Don. Then we walked toward Ed’s room, passing numerous open doors. Most of the residents were up and about, but we saw a few in their rooms. Doris was watching her huge flat-screen TV with the sound turned off, futilely cupping her left hand to her ear. Edna was talking with her son, Jerry, who was dressed in jeans that had holes in them and a tee shirt that was none too clean. Tony was dozing, leaning over, one arm draped over the arm of his chair and nearly touching the floor. Teresa, one of the marvelous Terrace aides, was animatedly pointing out a squirrel on the oak tree outside Harry’s window, while helping him put on his shoes.
Just before we reached Ed’s room we ran into Rhonda, my favorite Terrace nurse. She did a double take when she saw Don in the tux. “Way cool!” she exclaimed once I had explained why he was there, and continued down the hall with her medication cart. We were finally at Ed’s door and I was about to learn how he was going to receive Don. Our entrance startled him and he jerked to attention. I introduced Don and told Ed he was going to play a special violin concert for him.
“Oh! Superb! Wonderful! I’m honored!” Ed said as he shook Don’s hand.
I had the feeling Ed was really impressed by the tux.
So Ed was honored and I was relieved. I set up my tripod and fastened my camera to it. I planned to take many pictures, hoping to get at least a few good shots of what I hoped was going to be a special occasion. The longer Ed was at Alois, the more I felt photographs would be important to me later. I kept a tripod in my trunk and almost always brought along my little Sony Cybershot.
Don sat down on the tan metal folding chair I’d placed in front of Ed. He scooted the chair even closer, only about three feet from Ed, and began playing a Strauss waltz. The sounds were lively and luscious. I watched as his bow flew up and down, his fingers danced around, and his head snapped back on the high notes. Ed looked captivated. His eyes glued to Don, he had a rapt expression on his face and moved in time with the music.
“Bravo! Bravo!” he boomed in his bass voice while clapping at the end of the waltz. “That was the most beautiful ‘moo-sic’ I have heard ever in my entire, very long, and I emphasize very long life.”
Don thanked him and began playing a Romanian piece, as I’d previously requested. It was one of Enesco’s rhapsodies. Ed smiled broadly but I couldn’t tell if he realized it was music from his Romanian homeland.
“Bravo! Bravo!” he called out again, clapping like before. “That was the most beautiful ‘moo-sic’ I’ve heard,” he said. “Ever,” he added. “I don’t have words to say how happy I am that you are playing just for me.”
“Thanks,” Don said. “I’m glad you liked it.”
“My father played the violin,” Ed said, “but not nearly as well as you.”
Ed reached his hand toward Don and Don grasped and held it.
“What did you teach when you were a professor?” Don asked.
“I don’t r-r-remember,” Ed answered. Then he added, “Honestly, I’m not even sure I was a professor.”
I interrupted their little talk and since there were so many Gypsies in Romania and that was part of Ed’s culture, I asked Don to play some Gypsy music. He played Bizet’s Habañera from Carmen, and Ed sang along, jabbing his index finger in the air in time with the music.
“Tra la la-la, la la la la-la,” he sang, a twinkle in his eyes.
“Bravo! Bravo!” he shouted when Don finished. “That was the most beautiful ‘moo-sic’ I have heard ever in my entire very long, and I emphasize very long life,” he said for the third time. “You are the most talented ‘moo-si-cian’ I have ever heard, and I r-r-really mean it from my heart – it’s not just words from my lips.”
Don played half an hour longer, the music interspersed with more hand holding and small talk. When the concert was finished, I asked Don to sit on the sofa beside Ed so I could take a picture of them. Ed put his hand on Don’s arm and I snapped the photo. After that Don tried to rise to leave but he had trouble because Ed wouldn’t turn loose of his arm. Finally Don extricated himself.
“When are you coming back?” Ed asked.
Since Don didn’t know to say “tomorrow,” I jumped in.
“He’s coming back tomorrow,” I said, turning toward Don, hoping he’d get the message.
“Oh! How wonderful! I’ll be here waiting for you.”
Don left after many more good-byes, more excited compliments from Ed and thanks from me. I felt elated that the concert had brought Ed so much joy.
Some of the photographs were adorable. They captured the happiness of a man who had lost so much, yet was still capable of great joy. He was a man who wouldn’t remember the concert the following day, but he thoroughly enjoyed every second of it as it happened. In the pictures Ed looked as happy as I’d ever seen him. One of them shows him with both arms outstretched toward Don as he was playing. Another, taken when they were sitting on the sofa, shows Ed with his hand on Don’s arm, looking as proud as if he were sitting next to the President or the Queen of England or something.
The concert was such a success I planned to have Don return sometime. Unfortunately, I waited too long.