Musician performs from a distance to entertain isolated audiences

Mar 30, 2020

As nursing home residents are isolated from family and friends, a Wareham woman is bringing them music from a safe distance. Bagpipes, Elizabeth Butts’ instrument of choice, are perfect for a socially distant concert, as the sound travels easily and clearly to sometimes hard-of-hearing residents stuck inside. 

Butts plays the bagpipes in the Old Colony Highlanders Pipe Band based in Lakeville. Butts said she played the piano and violin as a kid, but didn’t pick up the bagpipes until two years ago, when she received lessons as a 40th birthday present.

She said that the month of March is usually the busiest time of year for her band, but that due to the coronavirus “we’re on pause because we can’t gather.” 

After reflecting on her own situation, Butts said she started to think about people in nursing homes, who are no longer allowed to have visitors due to ongoing social distancing efforts to limit the spread of the virus. 

In an effort to keep her skills sharp, and bring entertainment to others, Butts began playing her instrument outside of nursing homes and assisted living facilities, while residents listen from the comfort of their own rooms.

Butts played her first socially distant concert on Friday, March 20, and as of Sunday, March 29 she has played at six facilities including Wareham Health Care, All American Assisted Living, and The Tremont Rehabilitation and Skilled Care Center. 

The roughly hour-long performances include renditions of “Scotland the Brave,” “God Bless America,” and “The Skye Boat Song.” Butts said she moves from one section of the facility to another during her show, to bring her music to as many people as possible, all  while staying at least six feet away from residents as they look out their windows.

Although she might not be able to interact with her audience as she normally does, Butts said she has gotten positive feedback from listeners. 

“It’s mostly smiles and waves,” she explained, but a few of her listeners held up signs with smiley faces or a simple message to show their appreciation for the performance.   

Overall, Butts said that she hopes her performances make her listeners feel less isolated and that “if at the very least I gave them something to look forward to...that’s all that matters.”