Combining music with storytelling is the premise behind a new project between United and the Alberta Music Education Foundation (AMEF) that brought residents and students together at two performances at United communities.
United and AMEF recently signed a partnership agreement that encourages the use of music to add a new dimension to traditional storytelling programs. The result was two amazing performances involving residents of United’s two communities and students from Bishop Carroll High School in Calgary.
“This was a unique way to bring important stories to light that might otherwise have not been told,” said Samantha Whelan Kotkas, a facilitator on the project. “We asked residents for a favourite song from their younger days and then asked them what the song reminded them of. Then we paired students with the residents to create a skit around the story, which incorporated the music. The result was highly entertaining!”
83-year-old Sonia Eisler from the Garrison Green community used the 1967 song What a Wonderful World to recall visits to B.C.’s Harrison Hot Springs and the wonderful times her family had there. “I was a little nervous about telling my story but everyone was so encouraging. They made it a lot of fun and I really enjoyed it!” said Sonia. “Music has always been a big part of my life. It was nice to hear the talent and gifts that the students brought to the performances. While I was reluctant at first, this experience has been inspiring and I’m going to become more involved in some of the other events Garrison has to offer.”
The students not only supported the stories the residents had to tell, but displayed an amazing range of talent on their own. Student Katie McMillan, backed by musicians Aaron Young on guitar and Denis Dufresne on violin, sang an emotional rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah for a friend who had recently passed. Amy Gulewicz used the Beatles’ Hey Jude to talk about music being more about emotion than the notes, Michael Nimegeers and the students performed Everybody Wants to be a Cat from the play the Aristocats, and Jack Storwick talked about his love for collecting vinyl records after attending the Las Vegas play Love, featuring the Beatles’ music. “A lot of work goes into things we take for granted,” Jack told the audience. “After hearing that album, I appreciated how much work it took to create it. The lesson for me was, never take anything for granted.”
Garrison Green’s Lil Tyler and student Amy Gulewicz performed a short play based on the 1936 song It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie. Lil recalled a time when she was eight when an aunt became engaged, but then was heartbroken when the man called off the engagement in a letter, and even asked for the return of the ring. “This project was a terrific idea,” said Lil. “That song was popular at the time so in my mind that event is tied to the song. Later, when Hitler came to power, that song was tied to something much bigger.”
Fish Creek resident Agnes Rewucki used video to recall a trip to India by ship, and while onboard, she became known as an unbeatable ping pong player, which she re-enacted for the appreciative audience.
And Fish Creek resident Ernie Orford and Michael Nimegeers recalled Ernie’s love for the violin, but his family couldn’t afford one so he turned to the harmonica, which Ernie played for the audience. Ernie recalled that he later purchased a violin through the Eaton’s catalogue, and he became a self-taught left-handed violinist performing at small house parties.
AMEF chair Rolf Bertsch, a long-time friend of United, suggested the project as a way to bring older adults and students together. “AMEF did a similar project several years ago, but this one was so successful that I see it expanding to include other older adult communities where the arts are an important component of their philosophy.”
United’s music director, Jill LaForty, who saw the project through from its inception, saw the relationship-building that happened among the communities and the participants to be one of the most important aspects of the project. “For residents who came to our final presentations, they saw their neighbours in a whole new light. They saw some people who had been very quiet, suddenly expressing themselves or they discovered a talent, like Ernie playing the harmonica, that they had no idea was there. And the closeness that developed between the students and our residents in some cases will definitely continue long after this project is just a memory. Creative expression and relationship building – that’s what this was about.”
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To learn more about life at United’s Garrison Green, watch this short video.