The day silence became my most rewarding applause

My first day at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music was as intimidating as it was exciting. The Conservatory’s Outreach Program, a program that sends musicians out to perform at local Convalescent Homes, hospitals and other service facilities, heard about my reputation as a Cabaret Singer, so they sent me out to perform classics from popular American music standards; show tunes and popular songs.

My first experience at one of the Convalescent Homes was naturally frightening for a young singer/pianist. I was overcome by the lack of physical reaction and animation of the residents. However, I was a skilled performer and I was there to entertain.

I played many popular musical pieces and received the obligatory applause, slight and calm. In the middle of my program, I looked out to see if my music had changed any of the expressions from the elderly audience’s faces. That was when I was struck by the presence of one woman. She appeared to be comatose; her face had no expression and her body sat limp in her wheelchair. I was alarmed by her presence, being young and vivacious and quickly realized the distinct differences between our ages and our physicality.

Realizing that I had twenty more minutes to perform and the show was not creating the “stir” that I had expected, I just sat at the piano, resigned, and sang from my heart. I sang “As Time Goes By.” This was the theme song from the 1942 movie, Casablanca, written by Herman Hupfeld. It is a classic and very well known. However, the refrain at the beginning is not as well known as the rest of the song and is a little teaser before you sing the rest of the song which leads to the “AH-HA, I know this song” reaction.

I remember looking over at the woman whose body remained motionless and yet, I saw her big toe moving at the beat of the song. In that moment, she told me that she had her “ah-ha moment” and knew the song.

No applause has ever sounded as appreciative in my ears as that day where in silence I realized that my music was having a positive effect on my audience. This strengthened my belief that music encompasses the soul and the emotions.