Respect your elders.
I’ve heard that since I was a child, and a statement that was reinforced not only by my parents, but grandparents, teachers and mass media (although, in the early 60’s, mass media was nothing like it is today). Elders used to be those we looked to to run the family, supply support and leadership, hear the history of the family, and to pass along traditions, both familial and often religious ones.
Now, we need to fight for respect for any elder, more times than not.
Vitality, purpose, health (both physical and mental), self worth, connections with others. These are only a smattering of things that can be accomplished when our older citizens are not talked down to or dismissed.
In Part Two, I wrote about the other group that presented during the Open Opera Conference: Creative Resurgence. Today, I’d like to present the work that I was honored to be part of:
Presentation: OPERA America: Music and Memories (pilot project)
Zach Redler (composer/pianist) and I (creative drama/creative writing) were brought onto a grant funded project by Laura Day Giarolo, Director of Learning and Community Engagement for OPERA America. Working in conjunction with Project Find in NYC, Zach and I were brought together on creating an ensemble musical experience, stemming from the life stories of our participants.
We discussed our program: at a senior center in the upper west side of NYC, for sixteen (16) weeks, we were allotted an hour and a half, once a week, to meet with our group. In May, we had a culminating “work-in-progress” performance of songs and short personal story bites as performed by the elder group we had worked with.
What was lovely were the connections the group made with each other. In sharing their stories, both in small groups and large, they found commonalities: this was not a homogenous group in regards to nationalities, only in age group. New friendships grew out of the process. Many, if not all, were asking when we would be coming back, doing this again, continuing the work we started. That, to me, is the success. They were energetic, bright eyed and happy…and in the end, that should account for a lot.
The beginning sessions were split in half between music and storytelling/writing.
Zach introduced musical concepts and structure that served our performers well: he gave them not only rehearsal material, but strove to deepen the understanding of what was being created, how it all fit together, and how it can evolve. As the process continued, many of the participants continued to contribute, offering key or tempo changes that only strengthened the songs. Zach was gracious throughout, adding what worked and then building on it. During the rehearsals, Zach modified his conducting style for the comfort of the group, finding new ways to bring them all together when they were getting nervous as the performance date got closer.
Starting off with a story game the first week, we dove into writing personal stories the following week. From there, I introduced a Japanese poetry form, a Tanka, that I felt would help them self edit their stories to the story beats. A Tanka is where Haiku’s came from: a longer piece, it has five lines instead of three. In American English syllables, a Tanka form is 5-7-5-7-7. This was a challenge for some of the elders, but the majority worked well with it. By this point, we had them working in small groups; Zach would then take these works and, with the whole group, start creating the songs for our performance.
Zach’s musical safe environment to work was continued in what I did. Seeing that some judgements were being made of others in our first session, I introduced the Liz Lerman Critical Response Process, which I’ve used with just about every age group I’ve worked with. If you click on the link above, you’ll find the full details: you start off with positive affirmations (“I liked…”; “I appreciated…”), and the only thing the presenter/performer can say is “Thank you.” Other sharing critique is asked for or garnered, creating a very different form of peer level support and notes. Critique is to help each other grow, not to tear someone down, and for the most part the members of the group were diligent in following these rules.
Time was our enemy in that we didn’t always get the full allotted time scheduled (due to other programs going on in the center) and in the way Zach and I planned out the program. We needed more rehearsal time then we thought we would, and I know I should have better time management in getting the stories to poetry. Hopefully we will get the chance to do this again and learn from it.
I am available for consulting on Inter-Generational Program Development
as well as Project Management/Facilitation
Please contact me at:
stuart.nager at gmail dot com