Considering sharing your gifts? Music volunteers are often needed. However, here are some things to keep in mind.
Know the culture of the facility or community where you are volunteering
Do they have an entertainment budget? If so you may be hurting both other musicians who rely on that income and the activities/recreation department. Here in Lincoln, some of the best musicians I know earn a sizable portion of their income by providing entertainment for retirement communities and long term care facilities. However, there are also a number of agencies and facilities that lack the budget to hire musicians and would benefit from volunteer performances!
Be open to feedback
There was a volunteer at a facility I worked at that regularly played music that was too loud and inappropriate for the residents’ age and interests. Despite complaints from both the residents and the staff, she continued to play in the same way and was eventually asked to quit. If you have never worked in a facility or with a certain age group before, you may not know what their interests or needs are. They may be sensory sensitive or have communication issues that prevent them from letting you know when they have lost interest or are overstimulated.
When volunteering in an assisted living or long term care facility, remember that it is someone’s home and you are a guest there!
Another facility I worked at regularly hosted a piano recital. Even though it was open to the residents of our facility, people there for the recital would block paths for wheel chairs or take all the chairs up front. The people that I worked with were treated as non-people. It was very frustrating and disheartening.
Be aware of the reasons why you want to volunteer
It’s OK to volunteer to meet scouting or school requirements. You can learn a lot from those experiences. However, whether you are volunteer for personal or more altruistic reason, keep the needs of the people you are serving in mind. If what you are doing doesn’t serve those needs, you need to consider changing what you are doing.
Don’t misrepresent yourself
Music is wonderful. It can energize, calm, and bring spiritual awareness. Music volunteers and performers can make a real difference. However, music therapy, music medicine, harp therapy, etc have certain protocols that need to be followed in order to protect the patient, the therapist and to delineate scope of practice. Unless you have been trained and can follow these protocols, it is inappropriate to label what one does as therapy.