Music enriches lives of local seniors

By: Cari DeLamielleure-Scott | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published September 30, 2013

 Members of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra perform a recital for Regent Street of West Bloomfield residents. Every recital includes a performance and lecture on the instruments.

Members of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra perform a recital for Regent Street of West Bloomfield residents. Every recital includes a performance and lecture on the instruments.

Photo by Cari DeLamielleure-Scott

WEST BLOOMFIELD — Regent Street of West Bloomfield welcomed a Detroit Symphony Orchestra quartet for an intimate concert Sept. 24.

Regent Street is part of the Michigan-based senior living facilities of American House, which piloted a music program paired with the DSO in February 2012, offering concerts to the residents in metro Detroit buildings.

When the DSO ended its strike, the director reached out to American House, looking for ways to re-engage with the community, according to Kevin Kieninger, public relations and communications coordinator for American House.

Since then, the two have expanded their partnership, and smaller ensembles travel to various American House buildings three to four times a month. 

Each DSO performance lasts an hour, and the performers explain how their instruments work between sets. Following the recitals, residents have a chance to meet the musicians.

“Music is very much part of the culture here,” Kieninger said.

With a background in psychology, Kieninger explained that he is always reading studies on music and its effect on senior citizens.

“The thing that comes up more and more is music provides ways for people to reconnect with experiences and develop their self-identity. It is a powerful means of expression for a lot of people.

“Anecdotally, I’ve talked to some of the residents after the ensembles, and some of them are brought to tears,” he said.

The American House facilities have four choirs that are broken up by county and consist of approximately 70 residents. They perform at various locations, including elementary schools, senior centers and hospitals.

In September 2012, during Navy Week, the American House Choir opened for the Michigan Philharmonic.

“This year, a lot of people are getting the word out, and people are calling and asking us to perform,” he said.

Participation in the choir gives residents something to look forward to because they are counted on to rehearse and show up to be a part of something bigger, he added.

The choir and DSO partnership are part of the Life Enrichment Program that engages seniors socially, emotionally, educationally and vocationally.

Three miles down the road, All Seasons of West Bloomfield, a resort-style independent senior living facility, hosted international pianist Christopher Harding Monday, Sept. 23.

Harding is the chair of piano at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theater and Dance, and has flourished as an international performer, traveling to places including Tokyo, Taiwan, Newfoundland and Calgary.

While focusing on musical performances, along with other cultural activities, All Seasons acquired a Bösendorfer piano, which is a rare, handmade Vietnamese instrument.

Harding was the first musician from the university to perform a recital on the Bösendorfer piano.

“We formed an alliance with him. They will be presenting their most talented faculty members and students exclusively here,” said Jerry Beznos, principal partner of Beztak Properties. “Our strategy is to bring in musicians and the professors who will talk about their fields and specialties with their residents.”

The building was purposely built by design for an acoustic performance, and the musicians not only perform, but also share information about their instruments and recital pieces, explained Danette Bongiorno, director of marketing for Beztak Properties.

All Seasons of West Bloomfield opened its doors Aug. 1.

“When I began to work with our designers, I said, ‘You need to understand all public space in this building is basically a performance space,’” Beznos said. “We designed that (performance) room to be a lounge by day and concert hall by night that can accommodate about 250 people.”

Though the performances are open to the local community in addition to residents, the main idea behind the performances is that musicians come to play as guests in their home, he continued.

All Seasons hosts different musicians from a variety of sources four times a week in a living-room setting. Primarily, the selected performers focus on classical and jazz, but, according to Melanie Gormon, the social director, the facility looks to provide a mix.

“I think it’s so important for our residents to have regular music because music really feeds our souls,” she said.