Music Between Us

Author: Michael Papich

Music has a way of making faster and deeper connections between people than words alone ever could. In the ArtistCorps Music Between Us program, music students make those connections with seniors who are living with dementia.

ArtistCorps members bring their voices and their instruments to the Williams Adult Day Center, playing music from the 1950s and 1960s the residents there will recognize and enjoy. Dr. Allison Gagnon, chair of the Collaborative Piano department at UNCSA, is the faculty lead on this program.

"I have to bring my keyboard in, so It's a little bit of work to get there, but they're super appreciative and always smiling and remember our names," said Domantas Karalius, a graduate student in Production and Project Management and pianist.

Programming includes playing for and singing with the seniors at the Williams Center and finding a style of music that will engage them. That means adjusting what some students are used to, such as Clara Passmore, a graduate student in Collaborative Piano.

"It's taught me to engage better. I'm thinking of what to say to draw in attention, connecting something in the song to something in their lives," Passmore said. "I've worked with seniors before but never sang with them."

Laurence Brooke, a graduate student pursing a Master's in viola, said an important part of engaging and matching the audience is learning flexibility and adaptation.

"Every day is going to be different," Brooke said. "I've learned to keep an easy-going flow between numbers, emceeing skills, reading the room, and knowing what should be played next."

Power of Live Music

Brooke was part of Music Between Us in the 2020-21 school year, under strict Coronavirus conditions when only videos of the performances were sent to Williams Adult Day Center for the participants there to watch.

Now, the visits are a mix of in-person and live Zoom performances, with at least two performers at the Day Center engaging face to face with the seniors.

"Last year, we just made videos so we couldn't get a reaction. Now, in person, you have instant feedback -- and they don't hesitate to give feedback," Brooke said. "It's completely different, and so much better. Everyone at the Day Center is very nice and very attentive."

The mix of Zoom and in-person performances also mean more adjustments for the ArtistCorps members, but Passmore said it's helped her musical abilities.

"I had to practice playing and singing at the same time. I've made adjustments with looking at the Zoom camera and the piano," Passmore said. "It's made me a better performer and I can take what I do into my solo repertoire."

And when the musicians are in person, Karalius said it lets them form those important relationships with the audience, especially when they return to play week after week.

It's a lesson in how important what you do is. It's making people happy and forming relationships," Karalius said. "We're doing this to do good, take care of our community, and help UNCSA reach people where they are."

March 18, 2022