A Day in the Life...


Young at Heart musician Penny Hanna was kind enough to share her story as an artist preparing for an emotional performance at one of the many senior care facilities that we serve. We hope you enjoy her "Day in the Life"!


Sean Seman has asked me to give my two cents worth regarding the trials and tribulations of being a Young at Heart performer.  I consider myself really lucky to make my living as a musician.  It has involved re-inventing my goals (fresh out of music school I planned to perform Renaissance and Baroque music on the viola de gamba), and I welcome both the challenges and the many rewards of the musical life.  For example, last weekend I sang 10 or 12 songs for a wedding with a world-class group of players and was paid my usual fee of $300.  I didn’t have to bring the PA or rehearse, or learn any new songs for the event.  In fact my weekend work is usually a piece of cake.  I also teach kids and adults in my home for $35 an hour.  I schedule at my convenience and find I enjoy the one-on-one interaction of private lessons.  My role as a Young at Heart artist has brought many new and positive changes, and I enjoy the “show must go on” mentality, the challenge of re-creating a past world in a vibrant and exciting format, and the change to better understand how we all must decide how to face the end of life.  But it is not easy: we work very hard for every dollar – as I hope the following will show.

A Day in the Life of a Young At Heart Performer

Well, actually I would have to start four months ago when I began my research for my second show of the 2004 season. After a week of reading biographies and autobiographies, indexing the pertinent information, perusing my home library for relevant historical facts, and collecting my big box of assorted newspaper clippings I’m at last ready to begin. I’ve selected a number of songs made famous by Bing Crosby I feel will resonate with my target audience. The list is very large and will have to be culled to fit into an hour show. I now have a rough outline of songs and facts in no particular order. I need to make sense of the overload to create a show that will entertain and inform without being too esoteric, but I need to actually listen to the historical cuts. Thank heaven for iTunes. For just 99 cents a song I can download a selection of original Bing cuts and burn them on a CD for further reference. This is much better than the old method of combing through humongous songbooks full of inaccurate chords and arrangements. But wait, there are even more tunes here that would be really great for the show! At least I have the original sources at my fingertips.

Now I begin the slow (in my case) process of learning the songs: I need to change the keys to fit my vocal range (a bit different than Bing’s), alter the original arrangements to fit into the one-man-band format, and make sure the song order makes musical sense. Of course I must memorize all of the material from beginning to end, and not just the melodies and lyrics, but the guitar chords, the clarinet lines, violin sections, all the verses, the bridges, the openings and the endings: the whole enchilada from memory. But wait, it gets even better, because I then have to write an entertaining “patter” that’s easy to understand and hopefully full of humor and insight. This is part of the process takes several months. I rehearse almost every day for a couple of hours, in addition to my regular practice routine and teaching schedule.

At last the day arrives when I’m off to do my fist show. Well, actually it begins a week before when I call the facilities to review the performance dates and times, make copies of all paper work and upcoming schedules to hand out, and make sure my vehicle and musical equipment is in top form. Oops, gotta pay that $700 a year musical instrument insurance bill. Oh yeah, gotta fill up the tank again – I’ll drive around 10,000 miles this year for Young at Heart. Oh dear, looks like I need to pick up some more clarinet reeds and guitar strings. Pick up the tux from the dry cleaners. Better get my hair done: it’s almost Showtime! Then I’m off. Well, depending on the rush hour traffic I’m kind of maybe off. Usually it’s two or three shows a day. I’ve loaded my 60 pound PA, the horn, the guitar, the violin, and the paper work. Good thing I’ve decided not to play my double bass for the show. I will move my equipment 6 to 8 times a day for the next week. It’s great exercise! Really! I learn to be thankful for the little things like automatic door openers. I learn to be thankful for activity directors who are ready for you when you arrive (otherwise it’s move the furniture and hunt up the residents). I really appreciate the shows when I don’t have to compete with the vacuum cleaners or the alarms or the – too many to mention – other distractions that happen every day in skilled nursing centers while I’m trying to perform. It’s also really nice when I don’t have to get down on my knees to find the electric plug hidden behind the wide screen TV. And it’s great if my voice is in strong enough shape to last for the 2 or 3 intense hours I’ll be performing each day.

The best part is of course the audience. My audience is a piece of cake. It’s a great feeling to be able to make people smile, sing, clap along and have a good time. It’s a great feeling to hear people tell you how much the music means to them, how it brings back such wonderful memories, how they know and love every song I sang (and they don’t write ‘em like that anymore), how much they appreciate my time with them and will I please come again real soon?

Thanks for your time!

Penny Hanna

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