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North Shore student group excited to start serenading seniors again

The members of the Keys For Seniors group say they can't wait to share their music in North Shore care homes again
Keys for seniors - web
Members of the Keys for Seniors student group perform a virtual concert for care home residents during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As I head into my Grade 12 year at Sentinel Secondary, I’m excited to continue as the co-ordinator and virtual platform founder for Keys for Seniors, a volunteer group comprised of students who play music for and interact with seniors at a local care home.

I first joined the Keys for Seniors group in 2017, and, since then, we’ve been visiting the seniors at the Sunrise of Lynn Valley home regularly to play games, chat, and, of course, perform music.

However, the outset of COVID-19 prevented us from visiting – our last in-person concert was on July 18, 2020, and we had to perform in the garden (with the seniors inside) due to COVID protocols. To adapt to these changing times, I created a website and YouTube channel for Keys for Seniors so that we could still play music for the seniors during the pandemic.

Since the launch of our media platforms, we’ve grown our musician team and have made several virtual performances (where I compile performance clips from the musician team and edit them together) for the seniors.

We’ve also had a University of Alberta graduate and the Sentinel Secondary school band as special guests for some of our virtual concerts. With the pandemic starting to recede in recent times, however, we were able to schedule an in-person garden concert for this upcoming Sunday, June 13. We still won’t be able to interact with the seniors directly, but we will be able to play outside in the garden with speakers similar to the last garden concert around last year.

Playing for the seniors offered me a new perspective on music and I was startled by the impact my music had on the seniors. I didn’t expect the sudden cries of “encore,” the gentle singing while I played, or the general tidal wave of praise after every piece. I remember that one senior who was especially nostalgic and enjoyed our performances actually thought that I was a VSO orchestra member!

I always looked forward to our next performance, and the seniors would also always be excited whenever we visited, immediately dropping whatever they were doing to group up in the dining room to hear us play. In short, it was truly a transformative experience.

Unfortunately, we were no longer able to visit the seniors during the pandemic. While we recorded virtual performances to share with the seniors, it wasn’t the same. I recorded some favourites songs, including My Way and You Raise Me Up, but unlike normal, there were no quiet hums or cheers, just the indifferent beeping of the camera. However, we hope that our virtual concerts are comforting to the seniors or any other person that comes across them, especially during this uncertain time. We are looking forward to June 13 when we can finally perform in-person for the seniors again!

Our group is also looking to reach out to other senior homes wanting some music. We are willing to record virtual performances for other senior homes, and we are also happy to visit for live in-person concerts as well! We are also always looking to expand our musician team! Please email us at keysforseniorsmusic@gmail.com to request a performance or to inquire about joining our team.

Kevin Cho is the concertmaster for the Sentinel Secondary Orchestra and the Vancouver Youth Symphony Orchestra’s senior concertmaster for the 2020-2021 season. This article originally appeared in the Celebrate Seniors Week feature in the June 9, 2021 edition of the North Shore News.