Using music to redeem a social condition and leave the world a bit better is profoundly meaningful to me. I especially love composing music and expressing my heart’s feelings to bring social connections to my audience. Giving classical guitar concerts for nursing homes, I saw how music boosted the moods of elders by linking our souls and communicating profound feelings we couldn’t verbalize. I am very thankful to be part of the Orpheus community to do social good through music. My teacher, Dr. Klondike Steadman, has been particularly influential on my growth not only as a musician but also as a human being, as he has emphasized many times that “music is a form of social bonding, a gift we give not only ourselves, but also the world.” Over the past 12 years, he has inspired me to develop as a complete guitarist—excelling in technique, music theory, composition, heartfelt expression—and to share music with global communities. I will remain forever grateful to him and the Orpheus community for enabling me to experience life more deeply and spreading the gift of music to society.
Aylin has been a guitar student at Orpheus for twelve years, and during that time she has participated in private lessons, group musicianship, honors guitar quartet and trio, guitar ensemble, dozens of summer camps and so much more.
But it was the arrival of our greatest challenge as a music school this past March that brought out the best in Aylin. Completely on her own, she came up with several powerful ideas that have become central to our mission at Orpheus during this pandemic. Aylin wrote to me and said, “I know that Orpheus values giving the gift of music to the community. Especially during this stressful time, I think retirement homes, for example, might need us most." And, since my entire staff was consumed with moving nearly 700 students from in-person to online instruction, Aylin took the lead in crafting what was to eventually become the Musical Postcards for Seniors initiative. This program has motivated our students to invest themselves deeply in practicing music because they know that they can submit a video that will make a difference in the lives of residents of over 750 retirement homes across the US, Canada and Australia.
In addition to starting and running the Postcards program, Aylin also started our "Practice Buddies" system -- all this while applying to college (she already has early acceptance to the UT Neuroscience Department!), keeping straight A's, and helping out with the Orpheus Guitar Ensemble. Aylin truly exemplifies what it means to be a member of this community through her own learning and service to others!
The Friendship Concert is a collaborative event where Orpheus friends and families team up to present ensemble performances! This year, we had to get creative to keep the tradition alive while remaining virtual. With a little patience, and a lot of hard work, our students were able to create special performances they can enjoy for years to come.
One for the Record Books
It was our biggest Friendship Concert ever, and we're pleased to say it was a resounding success! Of course this was only made possible by our amazing community, and with more than 75 groups and 100 individuals performing, the huge level of participation embodies the collaborative ideals that Orpheus Academy was founded on over 17 years ago.
Another reason this particular concert is unique is that we have more family performances than ever before! Family music making has always been an important aspect of the Friendship Concert, but with families spending more time together, many seized the opportunity to bond through making music. It really is wonderful to see the joy of the brothers, sisters, moms, dads, and cousins who were able to connect and create with each other.
The Power of Collaboration
Working and learning together are vital life skills, and huge components in playing music. That's why we emphasize group learning and music making in every part of our curriculum, including group Musicianship classes and events just like this. In fact, cooperatively making music is an incredibly joyful experiences for any musician, which is why students look forward to the Friendship Concert every year.
As students couldn't gather in-person to rehearse and perform, we relied on our wonderful teachers and staff to create a space for students to collaborate and perform together virtually. Consequently, some performances are separate recordings that were edited together. In these, one student would record their performance part and send it to their partner, who then listened and played their own part along with it. Our amazing editors then edited the separate videos together to create one, final performance.
Through this process of recording separate videos, the students practiced important musicianship skills like keeping a steady beat, listening to each other, and understanding harmonies. Perhaps more importantly though, they practiced life skills like communication and problem-solving as they worked together to figure out performance details, practice their separate parts, and give each other encouragement and feedback along the way.
Many students made multiple attempts and recordings before getting their performances just right, and they practiced for weeks before even getting to that step. So as we enjoy the music and celebrate the performers, know that every performance encapsulates weeks and months of hard work, trying, failing, and trying again. This is the process of learning, and the result is something truly special. Performers will remember not only their final performance, but the challenges they overcame to get there, and the togetherness and community that they shared to support them along the way.
We want to thank all of the students, teachers, editors, and parents who made this event possible! Something like this can only be pulled off with the help of an amazing community like you. Thank you and enjoy!
"I want to thank Mr. Benjamin for nominating me for Orpheus Academy's student of the month. I like Mr. Benjamin because he is always encouraging me. My favorite part of the piano lesson is practicing rhythms. My goal is to be able to play any song that I like. "
"He started learning piano this year and he has demonstrated incredible discipline and curiosity towards music. He always comes prepared and sometimes even does the extra things I did not ask him to do. He is attentive and very observant in the lesson, it is always a joy to work with him."
I love to play guitar because it is an activity that I strive to get better at and is very calming. I like the multitudes of ways you can play, and how every piece is a different challenge to play and perfect. I also really appreciate that Mr. Turner has taken on the challenge of teaching me fingerstyle, which is a very difficult style to teach correctly. It makes the lessons so much more enjoyable because he really knows what I want to achieve and learn.
Tal came to me already a competent player, and I could very quickly see how I could help him become an even better all around musician. He is one of my hardest working students and I can really tell how much work he puts into practicing every single week. One of the great things about teaching Tal is that he has always had a vision of where he wants to be musically, but that does not get in the way of being open to anything I'd like for him to try to get him to where he wants to be and beyond. I look forward to every lesson with Tal not only because he comes so prepared and motivated, but also because his lessons truly challenge me to come extra prepared as both a teacher and performer to best aid him in attaining his goals.
"I love listening to music because it energizes me. When I listen to good singers I think to myself what did it take for them to get where they are now.
I love my piano and voice lessons, they are fun and sometimes challenging. I feel proud of myself when I master a piece."
"He is very talented boy.
He complete his Musical Journey Test Level 3 without mistake.
Ron is taking piano and voice class as well."
"I love music my entire life and my teacher Mrs. Mackenzie is a great teacher to me. I started violin two months ago. I love to dance and sing but most of all I love to play violin."
“I am excited to nominate Abby as student of the month. Abby has only been taking lessons with me since August, but has made incredible improvements in her playing. When we first began, Abby struggled to use her bow effectively. Now, she is playing beautiful Detaché and Martelé strokes with ease and is on her way to becoming a true master of her bow! I always look forward to Abby’s tenacious attitude and inquisitive spirit in lessons. Thank you Abby for allowing me to guide you in your Musical Journey, and thank you to Mom, Lisa, for playing a pivotal role in Abby’s achievements as well.”
Pieter Vanden Bout
My favorite thing about learning guitar is playing for other people. I loves his lessons with Jesse!
Pieter has been a dedicated student of mine for nearly two years. His joy and energy is always present during his lessons and his ability to produce beautiful tones from the guitar is simply amazing. He surprises me regularly with his uncanny memory and his unique imagination. I am happy and honored to have him as a student and excited to nominate him for student of the month.
Navya is a 2nd grader. A 7 year old who acts like 11. She has the most fun and fights with her best friend, her sister Shriya. Navya loves singing, dancing and being silly. Navya has an infectious laughter and her carefree and easy attitude makes her so much fun to be around.
Navya comes to her lesson prepared and eager to sing! She is organized and self motivated. At every lesson, she asks lots of questions and makes sure that she understands weekly assignments. She then returns to her lessons with improved technical skills and a better understanding of her music. I am happy to nominate Navya for the student of the month award!
I love to play and listen to music, as it makes me very happy. I love that Ms. Beth teaches me new songs (especially the Disney ones). I have a lot of fun playing them.
Sharanya has been a piano student at Orpheus for about one year. She is very involved and has participated in performance classes, recitals, and Postcards for Seniors. Sharanya practices diligently and is so excited when learning a new concept or song! I am proud of her hard work and truly enjoy teaching such a talented young lady!
Our son Nathaniel has improved in his guitar skill last year. Mr Jeremy is a great teacher and has connected with Nathaniel in special way. His teaching skills and methods are efficient
Nathaniel has continued to show his work ethic and enthusiasm in every lesson through his preparation and musical personality. He takes great attention to detail in the clarity and musicality of his pieces alongside demonstrating a high level of technique and tone. The progress that he continually makes every week demonstrates his perseverance and love for the guitar. Nathaniel’s curiosity and strive for excellence will bring him far in anything that he tries and I am so thankful for the opportunity to work with him.
When one of my students was struggling, I encouraged her to learn about her family’s favorite music. She discovered that her aunt loved the song “Gonna Lay Down My Sword and Shield”, and so she decided to play it with her two younger sisters at a family reunion.
Over the next few months, her practice accelerated, she mastered difficult music theory concepts, and she began to play with joy and zeal.
Sisters, Misha and Ashima, perform a duet for our Musical Postcards for Seniors project (jump to 1:08).
When the sisters performed the piece at their family reunion, they felt a huge sense of accomplishment because their performance had special meaning for their family.
Maybe you can think of a song that is particularly significant for you and your family?
Lucas plays the bass line to a song called "The Erie Canal" while his sister Emma improvises along to it.
Music can connect you to friends and strangers living miles away (just ask the thousands of seniors who’ve received our Musical Postcards), but it also has the power to strengthen your bond with those closest to you: your family.
Few activities bond families in the powerful way that music does.
Alex and his mom play a duet .
The Musical Journey is not just a system of goals and milestones that students accomplish, but a way for students to find internal motivation with creative projects that they choose.
With lessons online, we knew students needed a way to stay motivated with Musical Journey projects they could do at home. Orpheus teachers worked with their students and other faculty to envision new ways for students to share their music online. Many students have performed home concerts via Zoom or YouTube live, other students have created YouTube albums. The online format has opened up new possibilities we never would have imagined before.
Graham T.'s YouTube Live Concert
Celebrating these accomplishments is just as important. The admin staff and teachers have worked together to make students feel special even though we can't meet in person. This summer we hand-delivered over 25 trophies, and mailed over 90 milestone bracelets.
Britten W. Earns His First Trophy
Despite being online, the Musical Journey continues to spark growth, creativity, and independence in our students.
Milestones are mailed with a special note, and trophies are hand-delivered to the student's home.
By Aylin Tanriverdi
Musical Postcards for Seniors brings joy to seniors, through music, during these unprecedented times. Studies have shown that music has many positive effects on health, including neurological, cardiovascular, and psychological benefits. It can improve memory and immune functioning. It can also reduce anxiety and pain. Music lifts spirits and unites people during a time of self-isolation and separation. In Musical Postcards for Seniors, we send weekly music concerts (aka “musical postcards”) via YouTube videos created by students.
I was inspired to launch this initiative after seeing the comfort that music brought my grandparents during the pandemic. Normally, I only get to see my grandparents once a year because they live far away, but this year, due to the pandemic, we have not been able to reunite in person. Rather, we are trying to stay connected through video calls and music. My grandfather, in particular, loves listening to classical music. When we visited him in previous years, I remember he was listening to Bolero, Rodrigo’s guitar concerto, you name it. He is actually the one who asked me to play my first virtual mini-guitar concert!
What started as one concert for him turned into a weekly concert for all of my grandparents. During the pandemic, music helped us cope with the stress of uncertainty. It was a gift that brought us together even when we were thousands of miles apart. After a while, I started to think that other seniors needed the gift of music and the connection it can bring. So, when I heard about the nursing home crisis on the news, I knew it was time to reach out. Orpheus supported this idea, and we worked to bring students together to launch Musical Postcards for Seniors. As of July 2020, we have reached 758 nursing homes. These nursing homes include 26 states in the United States, 4 provinces in Canada, and 3 states in Australia.
Our initiative has been rewarding in many ways. As an organizer, seeing the positive response from students and teachers made another special kind of connection. Friends, brothers, sisters, and musicians of all ages were eager to share their music with strangers in isolation. Some students even composed their own pieces! With the help of Mr. Klondike and the directors, we worked as a team to put this together. Students who wouldn't otherwise practice and record pieces liked the cause, and went out of their way to dress up, practice, and record a huge number of pieces! The project brought out the best in everyone involved.
Our impact has gone beyond the Orpheus community Music has proven to be a vehicle to connect people globally. It is the universal form of expression that brings us hope and helps us cope with uncertainty. Whether it be from balconies in Italy, Facebook live streams from popular artists, or videos for seniors created by Orpheus students. During these times of uncertainty, we wanted to spread joy to seniors and show that we care, and I think we achieved that. Even if we can't see the seniors, we can feel that they are listening to our music. The response from nursing home residents and staff has been overwhelmingly positive: we used to reach out to them, and now they are reaching out to us for even more videos! One of our partner nursing homes in Austin, Overture Arboretum, even reached out to us and asked if we could perform live concerts through Zoom.
We would love to reach more nursing homes and help to grow this initiative. If someone is in a nursing home or has friends/family in a nursing home and would like to receive Musical Postcards, please reach out to us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. In the email, please let us know the name of the facility and the email of the activity director (if available).
More coverage of this initiative:
Austin high schooler creates virtual concerts for nursing homes
I am very excited to nominate Caden as Student of the Month! Caden is the type of student that will surprise you each and every lesson. Some of these surprises include learning a new challenging song on his own, learning WAY more than I had planned for lessons, or playing a piece I didn't even know he knew in a performance class (I was speechless in said performance class)! He recently passed his Level 2 test only one semester after passing the Level 1 test! It has been my pleasure working with Caden, and I look forward to our continued collaboration in the future. Nice job Caden!