Teens hit the right note with seniors

Magic of Music gives musicians the chance to perform for residents in assisted living

News last summer about the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic struck a chord with eighth-grader Catherine Yan of Hinsdale.

She immediately thought about the residents of nursing homes, where she had performed as a kid.

"I thought it would be nice to bring this up again and play music for nursing homes," said Yan, who plays piano and French horn. "And that's basically how Magic of Music got started."

Yan began recruiting members by reaching out to her friends, including pianist Kaitlyn Hu of Burr Ridge. Hu also is an eighth-grader at Hinsdale Middle School.

"I'm really close friends with Catherine and she came to me with the idea and she was really passionate about it - 'I want to play music for these nursing homes. Can you help me?' And I'm like, 'Yeah, no problem,' " Hu said.

Hu's motivation came from imagining what it would be like to live in a nursing home through the pandemic.

"I think bringing in music and having kids play music for me would make me really happy," Hu said. "I just want to bring joy to them."

Yan reached out to activity directors at The Birches Assisted Living in Clarendon Hills, where she had performed as a kid, and King Bruwaert House in Burr Ridge. Once she established their interest and recruited musicians to join the group, she began matching up performers and audiences.

"Basically I ask the other musicians when they are available, and I check in with the nursing homes to see if those times match up, and if they do, we have Zoom performances," she said. "They are about every week right now."

The teens typically play a piece they are currently working on.

"Almost all of us have private teachers. We pick whichever piece is ready to perform," Yan said.

"I've been playing a lot of Bach recently," cellist and group member Abigail AuYeung shared.

After the performances, the residents and musicians spend some time getting to know each other. The residents seem to enjoy the performances, AuYeung said.

"We don't always get to see their video, but they usually respond pretty positively," the HMS eighth-grader said. "They seem happy and they usually are asking questions a lot of the time. They will give compliments and stuff like that."

Hu agreed the response has been great and said she enjoys the post-performance chats.

"I think it's really interesting to listen to them talk about their own experience or their hobbies and likes, and we get to share our own likes and interests," she said. "I think it's really cool to just learn about each other that way."

The performances allow seniors to interact with younger people, something they haven't had the chance to do during COVID-19, said Amber Wright, life enrichment and dementia education director at The Birches.

"We can't really have children come into our community, and intergenerational programs are important to us," she said. "It was nice to interact with children and do it in a way our residents love - music."

Wright has been impressed with Yan's leadership skills.

"I think that she is very mature for her age and a go-getter, which I think is great. She's an obvious leader," she said.

Music is a wonderful way to reach people with dementia, she noted.

"It's just incredibly powerful," Wright said, adding that she too has enjoyed the performances.

"The music is beautiful. I love all of it," she said.

Magic of Music is looking to expand its roster of musicians and the locations at which its members perform, Yan said. Another friend she recruited, Therese Moraleda, is helping in that effort as the social media/communications manager.

"I just really wanted to help out Catherine," Moraleda said. "She gave me a leadership role to take initiative and try to reach out to more people. I just wanted to help out the community and help with a great cause overall."

Moraleda has been posting on Instagram and looking for other ways to spread the word. Interested musicians can send an email to [email protected] or visit its website at https://magicofmusicorgani.wixsite.com/magic-of-music.

Prospective members do not need to be at a particular proficiency level.

"As long as they are passionate and excited about what Magic of Music is doing, we believe they would all be valuable additions," Yan said.

AuYeung tried to assuage any fears that potential members might have.

"A lot of people are concerned that they are not good enough or they are not comfortable practicing," she said. "It doesn't matter how good you are. It just matters that you try.

"If you are not comfortable performing, the more you practice performing, the better you are going to get and the residents really aren't going to just hear you or anything," she added.

Hu agreed she has benefited from the experience.

"I think that Magic of Music has been a really great opportunity for me not only to help others but also to have some more experience performing, and I think that's really great for my musical career, if you will," she said.

Yan also hopes to find more locations at which to schedule performances, citing hospitals as possible venues. Another goal of hers is to initiate some fundraising efforts to help build the organization, from securing a custom domain for its website to creating a logo and spirit wear for performers.

She encouraged other young people who are interested in helping others to act on their ideas.

"It doesn't matter how old or how young you are," she said. "It doesn't matter your age, as long as you have the passion and the motivation to do what you want.

"If you want to help out in the community in whatever, go do it. There aren't a lot of bad things that can happen. The worst thing that can happen is it won't go as good as you want, and you can learn from it."

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean