As Ontario was going into lockdown, arts and health program coordinator Melissa Tafler reached out to the TSO to get a partnership off the ground to support older adults during the pandemic. The result? Musical sessions delivered 1:1 via Zoom.
Twelve Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra (TSYO) members signed up to volunteer their time and immense talent for two sessions per week in the six-week pilot project at Baycrest. They received training on the use of music in care homes and effective communication with older adults through Room 217, a music-based health arts organization.
The sessions include five pieces of music with discussion in between about the composer and the musician’s experiences.
In mid-May, Anika Grieve played the cello for Marjorie Francoz, 85, a resident of the Apotex Centre, Jewish Home for the Aged. Marjorie’s daughter Dana also took part in the half-hour Zoom call.
“It was magical,” Dana said. “I was almost in tears through the whole thing. I haven’t seen my mom smile like that in months!”
By joining the call, Dana was able to provide context about her mother’s own musical background, and how she had once studied music with the same teacher as celebrated 20th century pianist Glenn Gould.
Later, she wrote thank you messages to Baycrest, Anika, the TSO’s Dawn Ellis-Mobbs, Director of Education and Community Engagement, and Nicole Balm, TSYO Manager and Education Assistant, who worked with Tafler to arrange the program. In part, Dana’s email read: “Anika, your playing was so wonderful. More, the pieces you chose were perfect. My mom played the Six French Suites by Bach so often! Music has been the most important thing in my mom's life since she was a child. She studied with Maestro (Alberto) Guerrero for many years, and then married and taught music her whole life. For her to have an opportunity to see and hear you play was the best thing in the world…. Mom was over the moon!”
During the pandemic, Baycrest is facilitating eVisits and creating more recreational programming that can be streamed or offered on an in-house channel. Donor funds help with the purchase of equipment like iPads, smart TVs and other resources to make sessions like this possible.
Tafler said she is assessing the needs for residents of the Apotex Centre, the Terraces, the adult day program, those served by the Behavioural Support Outreach Team and others who might benefit. A staff member must be present to set up the call. For the Francoz call, recreationist Jessica Baker assisted. At this stage, Tafler and a staff person from the TSYO also monitor the Zoom sessions.
“I pushed forward with this very rapid prototype in response to the need for digital delivery of programming, but I do see it continuing past COVID-19,” Tafler said. “The musicians have done a really good job of curating the sessions.”
She’s enthusiastic about what she calls “a great partnership.”
“It’s a unique way for families to be able to participate in an experience with their loved ones, and a vehicle for meaningful connection. Music is a form of communication that transcends so many barriers, it truly is a universal language. To be able to bring this to our community, and include families at this difficult time has been incredible. Hearing the bursts of applause and seeing the huge smile after each piece is finished almost feels like we have brought the symphony into our resident’s room.”