Community Engagement, Grant Proposals, Audition Advice: Reflecting on November 6 – 19, 2017

For the last two weeks, the Civic Fellows have had the opportunity to visit the Caledonia Senior Living & Memory Care center. Thanks to the hard work of our second-year fellows, Midori and Alex, we were able to build upon last season’s residency and performances. This Scottish Home is located at North Riverside, just west of Chicago.  The long driveway through the woods opens up to a castle-like setting. Our first visit was during a rainy day, giving it the feeling of Scotland!

When we first walked into the ballroom we met Ian, one of the residents already waiting where our activity was about to take place. The first visit was short, as we introduced ourselves and played a few selections on our instruments.  Ian was happy I played his piano; he held my hands and told me he and his wife didn’t know what to do with the piano when they sold their house. Ian told me the piano never sounded this good in his house and that he was so happy to see it being played again.

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Civic Fellow Denielle Wilson with her resident at the Scottish Home

During our second visit, after some of the fellows performed, we broke into small groups to talk to the residents and learn about their lives. The room filled with all kinds of noise as residents began to open up about themselves.  Some fellows instantly hit it off with their partners.  Christy and I struggled to hold a conversation with our partner, Betty.

Betty is quiet, doesn’t say much, and sometimes sinks into a deep, contemplative state when questioned.  She smiles with her mouth closed, after a long silent, almost uncomfortable moment, finally responding with, “I don’t know.”  Christy and I started to wonder if we had put too much pressure on her, asking about her personal life while she struggled to remember the past.  But we were patient and hoped to learn more about her despite these obstacles.

The word spread about our activities, and we had more residents join us for our third visit to Caledonia.  The day before our final visit, I had the opportunity to play background music for their open house, which commemorated the facility officially transitioning away from the name ‘Scottish Home.’

The open house and performance brought excitement to the residents there.  One by one, each fellow introduced a resident, told her or his story and what life lessons they had learned from the partnership. We selected music which we thought was appropriate, relating to their stories and life experiences, and added musical drama to these stories. The event was an overwhelming success.

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Clockwise from top: Civic Fellows Joe Bauer, Alice Park, Laura Pitkin and Alex Schwarz with their partners at the Scottish Home.

During our bi-weekly fellows meeting on Monday, November 13th, our guest speaker was percussionist Joshua Jones, who just won the principal chair with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra.  Josh, a Chicago native and Percussion Scholarship Program alum,  gave a speech about his journey. He grew up on the south side of Chicago, where violence seemingly exists on every block.  With the help of the CSO percussion program, he had a chance to escape the pitfalls of poverty and crime, and become the musician he is today. His inspiring speech helped us understand the journey of auditioning, what we envision in ourselves through relentless hours of practice, and how we have the tools to feel comfortable in our own skins while expressing our innermost passions and feelings.  That’s how he won the audition.

It’s been an exciting two weeks, with our community project grant proposals now coming to shape. I am excited and proud to be one of the Civic Fellows, and to see the results of our proposal coming to fruition.

Pei-yeh Tsai, Civic Fellow and pianist

TOP: Pei-yeh Tsai solos during the Bach Marathon at Fourth Presbyterian Church. Photo by Brian Kersey, 2017.