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Posted by Positive Aging Community on 12/11/2017

Beaumont at Bryn Mawr: Music to Their Ears

Beaumont at Bryn Mawr: Music to Their Ears

When Marvin Weisbord and his wife Dorothy moved to Beaumont at Bryn Mawr in 2014, he brought with him his passion for music. With it came the weekly jam sessions with the 10 or so members of his Wynlyn Jazz Ensemble, and numerous scheduled and impromptu performances of their trademark “Great American Songbook” repertoire.

If a resident at Beaumont, like Marvin, has a particular interest or passion, and if it resonates with and would benefit the community at large, it is quickly promoted to the community calendar. Beaumont is unique in that it is owned and governed by residents, and residents collectively inform all aspects of community life – including the scale and scope of cultural, educational, entertainment, and social events.

Beaumont features musical events for a number of reasons.  They engage residents very differently from, for example, the ongoing Speaker Series or the mini-courses and classes. Music is inclusive and accessible to everyone.  Music elicits emotion, and emotion sparks memories of specical places and times. Play Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye or Over the Rainbow, and even residents with varying degrees of memory loss have the ability to remember the lyrics and melodies, and to conjure up the sights, smells, and emotions of listening to those songs long ago.

In a recent study, Dr. Jane Flinn, a neuroscientist and researcher at George Mason University, concluded that music and singing appear to allow older adults to activate the brain and retrieve old memories in ways that bypass the hippocampus – the area of the brain most affected by dementia, including Alzheimer’s. Studies at Johns Hopkins also have shown that both music-listening and music making have a profound and positive in infuence on older adults’ perceptions about the quality of their lives.

That explains why Marvin’s passion was a perfect  fit – and a hit. Begun as an experiment, the jam sessions took off after he invited the band to play one Saturday evening in the Beaumont Bistro. He referred to the event as “The Supper Club,” evoking images of Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby films to announce the program. Residents flocked to hear songs from the golden age of Hollywood and Broadway.

“It took me months to realize something important was happening,” recalled Marvin one afternoon. “I am not a professional entertainer. My friends and I in the Wynlyn Jazz Ensemble play these well-known tunes for the sheer joy of it. It doesn’t matter how perfect or polished our renditions are, I see new friends and neighbors tapping their feet and mouthing the words. And we end our performances with a sing-along to make sure everyone gets into the act.”

Musical tastes and interests vary, however. Beaumont is fortunate to be located on the Main Line, with easy access to central Philadelphia and one of its cultural gems: the world renowned Philadelphia Orchestra. Many residents are long-time subscribers and supporters, and the Beaumont bus provides regular transportation during the concert season.

A few residents and season ticket holders recently had a brainstorm: Can we bring members of the orchestra to Beaumont to tell us more about the individual “voices” of the orchestra, how the instruments are played and the sounds are produced at the hands of virtuoso musicians? A novel concept was born. In typical Beaumont fashion, they proposed it to  The Philadelphia Orchestra, and worked with key administrators and musicians to bring an epic musical event into being.

On a Sunday afternoon in late October, invited guests and prospective residents from Beaumont’s “Future Residents Club” joined 200-plus residents in the large Beaumont Room. Five principal musicians from the orchestra spoke in turn about their instruments (including one famous Stradivarius violin); when and where they were made; their history; notable musicians and performances over the ages; and how they create an astounding range of sounds. Afterward, the  five musicians joined to perform one of Richard Strauss’ “tone poems” for chamber orchestra, Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, to illustrate how, together, their instruments are able to tell a complete story.

As the audience  led out, Marvin was elated. “I looked around the crowd and people were fascinated. A perfect way to make music accessible to everyone. It answered questions we all have about instruments and making music. I myself took piano lessons when I was young without much conviction or appreciation. It wasn’t until I was 70 that I started to take serious lessons with professional jazz players, and now, at 86, I can’t imagine my life without music.”

To incorporate music into everyday life at Beaumont, residents of all backgrounds and abilities are invited to join the Beaumont Singers, the in-house choral group. Soloists and featured performers from Astral Artists, a Philadelphia nonprofit mentoring program for young, promising classical musicians, are presented on a monthly basis. Simulcasts of the Metropolitan Opera are screened in the theater every  first-Saturday.

Marvin summed it up: “I’m grateful for all the cultural and educational opportunities here at Beaumont. But especially for our little musical oasis that draws together friends, neighbors and family. It is also, on special evenings when I and the band  find our groove, a place where – with a little help from George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers and Larry Hart – we access our youth, and know again the precious moments of sadness and joy that define our lives.”

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