Music Outreach at Susan Bailis

One of the activities that has given me the greatest satisfaction in this busy few months are the weekly classes and sing-alongs at Susan Bailis Assisted Living.  I am working with them as part of my Schweitzer Fellowship, which has spanned the last academic year. I entered the project a bit blind, having had to find a new site and reconfigure my project after the initial site fell through. I had not had experience working with seniors before and I was a little nervous about it. I soon realized that my original project plan– chorus work and individual music lessons– weren’t a good fit for the population. The choral singing was difficult because of the wide disparity in musical ability and training–people who could read music got bored, people who could barely match pitch were frustrated.  Music lessons were difficult to organize because the few interested individuals tended to cancel or forget. I came up with another plan to offer more passive activities including a weekly music appreciation discussion and a weekly “sing along.” Once a week I bring in a CD or music with some kind of theme; for example, we did a month of opera history and each week focused on one or two composers or a certain style. As a group we listen and discuss interesting characteristics of the music including form and style. On another day I bring in old songs ranging from the 20’s to the 60’s and peck away at the piano while participants read from song sheets. Some sing, some just listen, but it usually ends up to be a fun and relaxed hour.

After some setbacks I feel we finally settled into a routine with these two activities around mid-February. The same clients tend to come to each respective activity and I feel I have developed a rapport with several of them. I think one big lesson I have learned so far, and this may seem obvious, is the value of just showing up. I admit I was discouraged at one point when the project wasn’t going as planned, but I’m glad I continued to try new activities until we found something that was good for the residents. I also am constantly reminded of the value of preparation and organization. In discussions that have not gone as well I always feel that I could have prepared more thoroughly beforehand. Finally, I think I’ve realized how much I can learn as a musician in any kind of educational setting. I’ve been able to explore musical works more in depth this semester as a result of offering these classes, and in the discussions themselves clients often have an unexpected question or insight that I can learn from.

In my next post I will share some video and anecdotes about the residents with whom I’ve worked and some thoughts about my experience with the Schweitzer Fellowship.

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