Bright yellow egg-shaped shakers, it appears, are highly prized items in senior song settings. We discovered this quite by accident while playing music in a small adult family home.
One of the residents, who recently celebrated her 98th birthday, expressed frustration every time we came because she could not sing, though she loved music. One day I found at the bottom of my purse a leftover shaker from band practice, which I handed to her.
Throughout the hour, she experimented with the sound. Basic shaking came first. Then as her confidence grew, so did her repertoire of sounds until she soon could do not only the first beat, but the subtleties in between the measures as well. As we were saying our goodbyes, she remarked, “I can’t sing, but I loved doing this. I was able to participate.”
Because of this reaction, we began to bring other eggs shakers to pass out before performances. And we noticed something unexpected. Sometimes, like our 98 year-old friend, making rhythm came naturally. However, other times, the shakers would sit unused until between songs. Watching from the front I would see listeners pick up the egg and roll it around in their hands, as if examining it under some kind of microscope. Then experiments would begin in the pause between songs. A shake here, a roll there…like explorers in uncharted territory.
For some,however, the shakers became an invitation to boldness. One senior, notable for a sometimes surly response to the world, became the lead shaker in a large group setting.
From her chair at a table, her shaking of the egg became more complex and rhythmic until it seemed the very movement itself compelled her out of the chair and across the room to where we stood. Leaning on a support post beside me, nearly blind and hard of hearing, she stood and sang full volume, her feet, moving in time to the shaking of the egg in her hand.
The shaker moved her from discontent to bold leadership. When an old favorite tune ended, she stood, marched up to us again, and started a new chorus of the song, leading the room in an acapella reprise of one of her favorite songs. In the end, when we went to greet after the music was done, she announced,
This was the best day of my life.
But these best days come ”at a cost.”. Though we arrive at our senior sing-a-longs with a certain number, and though we always say we are collecting them, new "owners" are reluctant to give them up. They get slipped under napkins on the table or into pockets or into purses. We know this is true because as we wander, we hear the telltale signs of the rattlesnake-like rhythm punctuating the air. A little like a game of hide and seek, when we are near, quiet reigns. But as we move away, we hear the quiet rattling dares of captive eggs in the hands of their kidnappers.
After seeing this pattern develop, it occurred to me that apparently, that egg-shaped shaker is not just a noise maker. It is a symbol of what happens when people gather to relive memories through music and create new ones through participation. It is a symbol of curiosity about things that are new. And it is a symbol of what a person can still do well when other abilities are gone.
Someday, good Lord willing, it will be me sitting in that dining room while someone is singing the songs of my youth… Crosby Stills and Nash, Simon and Garfunkel, the Beatles, and, yes, Arrowsmith. And I hope when they do, that someone hands me a shaker. Something small that fits in the palm of my hand and is brightly colored so I don’t lose it through blurred vision.
Something that gives me permission to be part of the music and not just a silent subject.
And when they do, I want to shake it with every fiber of what’s left of my body. I want to shake it as my primal victory cry to the world that I made it…
I sang my song…I lived my life.
And no matter what lies ahead, I want to shake with all of my being to announce to the world that I will live, to my last breath, not on the sidelines of life, but celebrating the life song I was given with a joyful noise.