Intergenerational program brings nice surprises

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Jim Lay
Jim Lay

“Is it okay if I play?”

Leigh Ismael, a 14-year resident at Twin Towers senior living community in Cincinnati, was enjoying dinner with new resident Alyssa Griffith. In the course of their conversation, Alyssa expressed her wish to see the beautiful health services center across campus. Leigh provided a tour, and in the living room of the memory care neighborhood, Alyssa spotted a piano.

“Is it okay if I play?” Alyssa asked, seeing residents out and about within the community space. She began to play, and the effect of her music was magnetic, drawing residents to her in the joy of the moment and in awe of her talent. The next 30 minutes or so were a time of unbridled engagement for more than two dozen residents who likely hadn't heard anyone play quite like Alyssa in many years, if ever. This spontaneous encounter exemplifies Twin Towers' mission to deliver “exceptional everyday experiences” for each of its residents.

Twin Towers serves 400 residents and has done so in the same location since 1908. The community may have been in operation for well over 100 years, but it is safe to say that Alyssa is likely among the youngest residents to ever have lived there.

Alyssa Griffith (pictured, left) is a 22-year-old student at the renowned College Conservatory of Music (CCM) at the University of Cincinnati, in her first year of a two-year program in pursuit of a master's degree as a collaborative pianist. She and her roommate, Twin Towers' resident Annie Barr (right), also 22, who is seeking her master's degree in opera performance, reside in a patio home in Twin Towers' South Ridge neighborhood. The two young women comprise the inaugural “class” of the CCM Artists-in-Residence program at Twin Towers.

This innovative program was the result of CCM and Twin Towers identifying the intersection in their missions and foreseeing the positive impact for Twin Towers' residents and such aspiring students. Residents are thrilled with the opportunity for natural connections with young people as part of their everyday life. CCM is able to extend its grassroots impact beyond campus and concert hall, using music and relationships as a bridge to enhance life experience for all involved. Twin Towers' proximity to the University of Cincinnati campus helps this idea make even more natural sense.

Here is how the program works. In exchange for free residence on the Twin Towers campus for the two years of their study program, the artists themselves design and deliver a monthly, 45-minute performance for the residents. These performances highlight the range of the artists' talents as solo performers and collaborators. Sometimes they bring student peers to enhance their show.

The artists also practice on an unscheduled basis in open spaces throughout the campus, doing so with great frequency. Residents walking to dinner often are surprised by an impromptu concert featuring piano and voice. They stop briefly to listen and share a short conversation with Annie and Alyssa. Residents never know just where and when this might occur.

The concerts are especially personal to both students. Their extensive academic performance routine normally is driven by the rigor of school demands, but performances for residents allow these inspirational musicians to share their gifts beyond academic requirements in an expression of love for their audience.

This love has emerged through personal relationships built with their Twin Towers' neighbors. One resident arranged for a family member to donate a piano and have it delivered to the students' home so that they could practice when they wish. Residents attended the public performance of the CCM production of “The Merry Widow” in which Annie excelled as part of the company. Twin Towers' residents were seated right down front as her honored guests and were treated to a back-stage tour as part of their experience. During early December, the student-residents baked and delivered cookies to their neighbors, spreading the joy of the season and the warmth of heartfelt relationships.

The simple vision that these students would provide pleasing musical entertainment for Twin Towers' residents has blossomed into a depth of kinship and connection between unlikely acquaintances. When semester break led to the students heading home to be with their families for the holidays, their Twin Towers family anxiously anticipated their January return.

The mutual benefit of this relationship for Twin Towers and CCM has led both parties to agree to have two additional students reside at Twin Towers beginning in August, bringing the total artist population to four. This will ensure a sense of continuity for residents to help mitigate the bittersweet feelings that the inevitable departure of the beloved second-year students will create. Residents already are preparing to follow the careers of their special friends once they embark on life's path.

“Is it okay if I play?” Alyssa asked.

Yes, Alyssa, it is absolutely okay. Keep right on playing!

Jim Lay is the executive director of Twin Towers, part of Life Enriching Communities, Cincinnati.

Are you interested in writing a guest column for McKnight's Senior Living? Send an email to Senior Editor Lois Bowers at lois.bowers@mcknights.com.

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