Who’s helping whom?

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I spent many years as an accompanist for choirs, soloists and presiding ministers who chant! One of the hardest parts of that work was to decide who was helping whom. The first rule for those who accompany—yes, there’s a metaphor coming soon here—is to match the singer’s tempo, volume and style as closely as possible. To meld into a unified musical voice—the accompanist helping the singer.

It’s also true that the singer helps the accompanist. Acknowledging one’s dependence on the mostly invisible keyboard person. Keeping tempos accurately; staying on key and refraining from confusing embellishments.

The result of this mutual helping/accompanying is pleasing to the musical ear: The beautiful sounds of music coming as from a single source. Directed at the appreciative spirit of the listener. When I hear (or write) about “accompaniment”, I always remember my years of musical helpfulness: someone helping someone else along the way. (“Coming alongside” is sometimes used to describe “accompaniment”.)

I now understand that the helpfulness-metaphor extends both ways—I am helping as I am being helped. As my helping abilities wane—because of diminished capacities or resources—I can gain the ability to receive others’ help. They extend to me the gifts of kindness, grace, forgiveness, understanding or presence. And I extend to them my gift of accepting their kindnesses.

The relationships we older adults have with others can stop being about either offering or accepting help—as though one is more preferred than the other. As our lives become filled with helpfulness—accompaniment—the distinctions start to disappear. In our interactions with others, we gratefully acknowledge all the ways in which we walk next to each other as equal partners in life’s journey.

Somewhere along the path of my life, I’ve learned to acknowledge the helpful gifts I receive from those who, earlier in life, I would have considered only as recipients of my kindness. I start to imagine us as side-by-side folks, metaphorically walking arm-in-arm. Supporting each other with our unique gifts or capabilities.

This all gets to be fun when we start to express our gratitude to each other. Now we try to figure out how to say “thank you” in ways that are mutual. (So I might thank you while you are thanking me, and then we both thank each other for the thanks!) To extend the metaphor, the sound of this gratitude-music can be as satisfying as the helpfulness itself!

As I grow older, I still look forward to being helpful for others. And I hope that spirit can continue as long as my capabilities remain useful to others. But I am also findig satisfaction and meaning in those relationships where I am the one being helped—I am the singer to someone else’s accompanist. I can humble myself and accept this gift, knowing that by receiving help with grace and gratitude I am also being helpful to others. In that case, they’re the choir and I’m the keyboardist!

If you want to play with the wonderful complexity of this metaphor, imagine people everywhere accompanying each other, offering and receiving help. Add to that picture the scene of those crowds of helpful/helping people—many of them older adults—now trying to express and receive gratitude all at once!

Talk about beautiful music, hmmm?

 

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Bob Sitze

BOB SITZE has filled the many years of his lifework in diverse settings around the United States. His calling has included careers as a teacher/principal, church musician, writer/author, denominational executive staff member and meat worker. Bob lives in Wheaton, IL.

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Avatar By Bob Sitze
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Bob Sitze

BOB SITZE has filled the many years of his lifework in diverse settings around the United States. His calling has included careers as a teacher/principal, church musician, writer/author, denominational executive staff member and meat worker. Bob lives in Wheaton, IL.

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