Beyond chamber music
From classic opera to modern rock, United’s music program explores a world of sounds.
Imagine you’ve entered your grandparents’ parlour. What do you see? A determinedly formal space, pristine furniture protected by delicately embroidered doilies, heavy sweeping drapes span the windows, a very intricate (and fragile) heirloom lamp, a well-curated bookshelf with intentional smatterings of keepsakes and family tomes. And in the corner, a lonely radio fills the heady atmosphere with dulcet horns as a warbly falsetto gently wafts and cracks its way through staticky air.
Well, that’s what the movies tell us, anyway.
Is that really what seniors these days listen to? If you ask Jill LaForty, United Active Living’s Music Director, the answer is yes…and no.
United’s music programming started with the classics: outings to chamber music concerts, the opera, and classical music appreciation lectures as an opportunity to attend live performances, and a way to offer residents an in-depth understanding of context and themes throughout the traditional music genres and their offshoots.
But, as the community has evolved, so have the musical tastes within. “We’ve seen a huge uptake in residents participating in United’s music programming. And as we have more residents join the community, we’ve had to expand the programming to accommodate residents varied and changing tastes,” says Jill.
But Jill is no stranger to variety. She’s spent a lifetime voraciously seeking the stories behind the sound. Prior to joining United, she procured talent and produced programs for CBC radio, a career spanning 30 years. “I moved to Calgary on a whim, and ultimately, I landed at United on a friend’s recommendation,” Jill says. “The beginning was a lot of trial and error, but we created a foundation for the music program that gives residents the opportunity to explore music through outings and experiences, in-depth educational series, and in-community performances.”
Jill’s tenacity has also brought a range of dynamic partnerships into the score: “We’ve established partnerships with local organizations like Mount Royal University, Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra and the Calgary Civic Symphony, offering residents unique opportunities to connect with performers, and experience intimate performances in community spaces. We really set out to make music accessible to residents. Bringing live music into the community has had a profoundly positive impact on residents.”
So much so, that residents have asked for more. “Classical music will always be a big part of our programming, but residents’ musical tastes are all over the map. They’ve asked for programming that reflects back on their formative years—deep dives into the music of Harry Belafonte, Canadian music history, Woodstock, we even have a resident who loves 80’s hair metal!” Jill laughs. Performances where residents can let loose have really resonated too: “Anything that gets residents singing along is sure to be a big hit: East Coast folk songs, Bluegrass, and classic rock will have residents filling the theatre and spilling out into the lounge.”
Across the universe…or maybe just up the road
In a career that’s spanned 40 across years, musician and actor Paul Wood has played his guitar in front of thousands of people while supporting major artists like k.d. lang and The Doobie Brothers on tour.
Paul’s acoustic covers of classic rock anthems, punctuated with jokes and stories between riffs are met with laughter, singing, and merriment. “A lot of people underestimate seniors—they’re a lot more sophisticated than people give them credit for. We don’t have to handle seniors with kid gloves. They went to rock concerts and blew off steam at bars as teenagers and adults too.” Paul adds: “We have a lot of fun at the show, listening to reimagined versions of favourite songs from across the decades. It’s a fun challenge for me to keep the music engaging and fresh, and I really enjoy spending time with residents. Music is a great way to connect through memories in a meaningful way.”
While the audience in the United theatre is a little less raucous than the festival and stadium crowds, the effect is still profound, according to Paul: “It doesn’t matter how big the crowd is, when an audience connects with you and the music, the energy is unmatched. Music is such a huge part of who we are—it really brings back memories and emotions that last forever.”
More than just song and dance
Ralph is among the residents frequently spotted participating at United’s music programs. “I love all types of music. I love the symphony. I love rock and roll,” he says. While Ralph is a connoisseur of all things musical, you won’t hear him strumming a guitar or transposing notes for a saxophone. It’s likely, however, that you will encounter Ralph cutting a rug. “I have a strong sense of rhythm and I love to dance, it’s really important to me. I was connected to the CPO, and I went dancing at Dad’s club even well into my sixties, and I still love to dance now.”
In fact, while attending Paul’s concert, Ralph found the music compelling enough to erupt into dance during the show, to the delight of everyone in attendance. “I just wanted to dance and share in the fun.” Since then, Ralph and Paul have found friendship through their common interests. “Music is such a major part of my life, I can’t live without it.” When it comes to the music program at United, Ralph’s review doesn’t skip a beat: “Most of all I love Jill’s encyclopedic knowledge and love of music. It keeps me guessing every month.”
Let the music play on
For seniors, music has so much more to offer than just entertainment. Beyond the practical benefits of reducing social isolation by spurring connection with peers, listening to music stimulates all the areas of the human brain. Seniors experiencing memory loss experience improvements in their overall mood and some research suggests regularly listening to music can delay or reduce the symptoms of cognitive decline.
Certainly, as the music world and beyond comes to terms with the loss of the legendary Tony Bennett from Alzheimer’s Disease, his wife Susan Benedetto describes how Tony used his piano and voice to engage and reconnect with his loved ones. “…as soon as he heard the piano music… The shadowy mask of dementia was replaced with the easy charm of a lifelong entertainer.”
No matter your oratory proclivities, United’s music programming has been composed to create an atmosphere that explores and celebrates music in all its forms. And, regardless of whether you’re a master of the scales, or you can’t carry a tune in a bucket, stop by United and play on!
Speak with one of our active living advisors about life in a United community. They can arrange tours of our Garrison Green and Fish Creek communities. If you know a friend or family member who could benefit from living in a United community, send them a link to our website or blog, or arrange a future visit. We are happy to help!