Exposed White Teeth

February 16, 2011
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“Frina?” I heard a voice from the driver’s seat calling my name. “Is someone meeting us at the door?”

My mind processed the question, aware that the answer was no but trying to think of something positive to say in response.

“They do know we’re coming!”

I flashed a smile, attempting to convince the ten students seated around me in our blue mid-bus that everything was perfectly under control; meanwhile, I secretly crossed my fingers and hoped that at least a few audience members would show up to listen. Seeing through my efforts, one of my classmates laughed – it certainly was a student-run initiative…

That anxious but eager bus ride was the first of what became monthly trips to senior centers, libraries, churches, and hospitals as a club called “Songs for Smiles.” I started the club in 2009 as a New Year’s resolution to bring music from our small boarding school community to the surrounding towns. We adopted the motto, “Music can change the world because it can change people,” and tried to implement that change through free performances and fundraisers.

“AWESOME PITCH!” That Sunday afternoon at the Noble Horizons Retirement Community, about halfway through the concert, an elderly lady yelled out enthusiastically and clapped her hands together, breaking the preceding silence. Everyone laughed and joined her, applauding some more for the previous song, a solo cello piece, which had indeed been phenomenal.

The performance continued and, about twenty minutes later, the eyes of the entire audience widened in an instant as a small-sized lower-mid girl executed a strong glissando followed by several powerful chords. She was using an undersized electric keyboard with one pedal and a little bit of touch sensitivity, but her ardent performance, one of the most exhilarating events of the week, left the whole audience in a visible daze.

Before long, the concert ended, and the applause faded, but people remained in their seats. We learned to spread throughout the room, “mingling” by shaking hands, hearing their experiences, and expressing our gratitude for their gratitude. One lady, who could not stop thanking us, told us that she recently had had a stroke and that, after decades of playing the piano and singing, she could no longer read a single note of sheet music – she really needed people like us to bring the music to her. A man in a wheelchair could barely lift his head, but his wife helped him to raise his hand from his lap, and he shook my hand and the hands of my classmates with tangible gratitude. The cello player lingered for several minutes with the woman who had been so blown away by his performance; I made a mental note to ask him about it later.

Now, the bus ride over is no longer as uncertain, but it ends every time like the first time. I’m standing there, shaking hands with, say, Rianna, my favorite five-year-old, or Martha, a Juilliard graduate now in her eighties. Their smiles match my enthusiastic grin. And that’s when I know that the exchange of joy, those exposed white teeth, will be my ultimate goal in life.

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