Aylin has been a vital part of the Orpheus community for over a decade! She strongly believes in music’s ability to make a difference in the lives of others, and understood the isolating effect of the pandemic and social distancing, especially for senior citizens. As a result, Aylin created the Musical Postcards for Seniors initiative to organize virtual concerts for seniors in retirement homes, which united many Orpheus students, teachers, and families toward a good cause.
Now that Musical Postcards has come to a close, Aylin’s guitar teacher and Orpheus director, Dr. Klondike Steadman, spoke with her about the project, her time at Orpheus Academy, and her advice for others in using music for positive change.
Klondike: Hi Aylin, thank you so much for being here today!
Aylin: Hi, thank you.
Klondike: I can't believe you're getting ready to go off to college. I just think about that ambitious little girl who came-- I don't know, were you four or five when you first came to Orpheus?
Aylin: I think I was like six years old.
Klondike: You were just so focused and intense. You're still a really focused person, and you just wanted to be so good at everything you did, and you put your whole heart into everything you did here at Orpheus. I almost can't imagine Orpheus going forward without you. You've been such a big part of Orpheus for 12 years, is that right?
Aylin: Yeah, 12 years.
Klondike: It's really incredible. I had you in some of my earliest Musicianship classes, when you were just six years old. And now you're graduating high school! How awesome is that?
Klondike: Looking back at all of those years, and it's way too many things to even mention in one interview, what are some of your favorite memories of Orpheus, and accomplishments from your time here?
Aylin: I have so many amazing memories, it's really hard just to pick a few to discuss here. But I think a lot of my favorite memories come from making music together with other students. I was part of a guitar quartet for around five years, and I really enjoyed practicing and performing together.
We played a lot of fun pieces, and one of my favorites was "Kalimba" by Kindle I believe. A kalimba is like an African thumb piano, and so to imitate the sound of a kalimba we each put a handkerchief underneath the strings of our guitar, and I’d never done that technique before, so it was really exciting to try. The piece "Kalimba" is based on like African and Afro-Cuban rhythms, and I really loved exploring different cultures while also learning and playing new rhythms with the quartet.
And last summer, I started Musical Postcards for Seniors to inspire Orpheus students to record concerts for seniors to help ease their isolation during the pandemic. And the dedication of the Orpheus community to do social good through music and the positive feedback from seniors is something that I’ll forever cherish.
Klondike: Yeah, and we'll talk a lot more about the Musical Postcards, that’s such an amazing thing.
But I just want to share with you that one of my cherished memories is when we traveled down to Brownsville together. And we had to rearrange "Kalimba" to fit because one of our members of the quartet couldn't make it, and so you guys all took on the extra burden and you took home first prize in the guitar ensemble competition, the small ensemble. So that was really an added bonus, but the main thing was just sharing that time together, eating out together, traveling together, it's really something I’ll hold close to my heart for my whole life.
Klondike: But you mentioned the Postcards to Seniors-- how did you get the idea to create this amazing program of videos that get sent to retirement communities?
Aylin: So last year when COVID-19 hit, my in-person ensembles, lessons, and concerts came to a halt. My fellow musicians and I found ourselves in a Kafkaesque nightmare: isolated at home, sequestered from each other, and unable to make music together in a surreal new reality.
And meanwhile the media reported dire problems for isolated seniors. And talking with my grandparents, who were quarantining on the Aegean coast of Turkey, I really sensed their gloom in losing human connections. And so to lift up their mood in a Zoom call, I played some classical guitar pieces for them, and it instantly lit up their eyes. I was really exhilarated by that connection.
"Talking with my grandparents, who were quarantining on the Aegean coast of Turkey, I really sensed their gloom in losing human connections. And so to lift up their mood in a Zoom call, I played some classical guitar pieces for them, and it instantly lit up their eyes."
Klondike: Well it was so awesome, and you know I think it's one thing to have an idea-- but you actually took it and put it into action. What did it take to bring that idea to fruition?
Aylin: So I started out by making sample recordings of mini-concerts, and I emailed them to nursing homes. To my surprise, some nursing homes called back immediately to learn more about the idea.
I sensed that my recordings alone would not be sufficient, so I pitched the idea to Orpheus students and invited them to record music and greetings for seniors. And students loved the cause and went out of their way to dress up, practice, and compose new pieces. And I was able to edit the recordings into Musical Postcards, and share the links with nursing homes.
To scale the project up, I reached out to Orpheus leadership and secured support for engaging more students, teachers, and staff. We developed a system where students upload their recordings to Google Drive for a team of teachers to review, and then I would arrange the individual recordings into 10 to 15 minute Musical Postcards. And I collaborated with staff to manage the supply of Musical Postcards and we emailed them to nursing homes weekly.
Klondike: Wow such an amazing operation that just [whoosh!].
"I pitched the idea to Orpheus students and invited them to record music and greetings for seniors. And students loved the cause and went out of their way to dress up, practice, and compose new pieces."
Klondike: So, can you just share with us some of the notable statistics about Postcards to Seniors?
Aylin: Yeah, so our concerts of over 100 students reached over 760 nursing homes in 26 U.S. states, four Canadian provinces, and three Australian states.
Klondike: It just blows me away. It's one of the most impactful initiatives we've ever had at Orpheus, and I just am so grateful that you did that. Not to undercut the amazing work that you've done changing the lives of seniors, but I also want to say, the students themselves that probably were just on their screens all day long-- they need a really good reason to feel like what they're doing has meaning.
Klondike: Can you talk a little bit about your experience changing lives, and then how it felt to see those wonderful videos from the other students?
Aylin: Yeah, so for me, giving back to my community through Musical Postcards gave meaning to my life. We're inherently social beings who crave social connections, and I think our communities can really give us courage, help us overcome life's challenges, and make the journey worthwhile.
So I saw that we could really alleviate social challenges by working together and uniting. And with the help of the Orpheus leadership, students, and teachers, we all worked as a team to put this together, and I think it brought out the best in people and enabled us to stay connected. And hearing the positive feedback from seniors was very meaningful. Many of them commented on how the concerts have brought a smile to their faces and sparked a memory of their own children playing instruments and performing in school concerts.
One senior, I remember he commented like, “I love this so much that I watch it every morning, it gives me hope and brings sunshine to this dark time.” And helping to bring joy to even one person is very meaningful and rewarding.
Klondike: Wow, again it just really touches me so deeply. You may not even be aware of this Aylin, but concurrent with the Musical Postcards, all the teachers and staff at Orpheus were kind of exploring what our deepest values are as an academy, and we decided to settle on “Collaborate, Play, Engage, and Create,” and I think that Musical Postcards-- You just hit on all of them. You came up with a great idea, it was very creative, and then you collaborated with the teachers, staff, and students, and also the people at the nursing homes, to get people playing and get the engagement up. So I’m just so proud of his project.
When Wendy and I started Orpheus like 18 years ago, it was mostly because, even outside of a pandemic, music lessons, classical music lessons particularly, can be a very isolating experience: “Practice by yourself, go to a private teacher, go home and practice what the teacher told you you did wrong, go back for another lesson.” And we wanted the opportunity for kids to come together and be able to be in group classes, and like you said, that experience of playing in ensembles was already really meaningful, and I think that you then took it to this whole new level, which is just so inspiring.
"Our concerts of over 100 students reached over 760 nursing homes in 26 U.S. states, four Canadian provinces, and three Australian states."
Klondike: I wanted to ask you a little bit about your future plans, I hear you're going to Harvard?
Klondike: That's amazing, and tell us a little bit about what you hope to study and research, and maybe even beyond your undergraduate years, what you hope to spend your life doing.
Aylin: So I'm really grateful to have the privilege of attending Harvard, and I'll be studying neuroscience on a pre-med track. So my hope is to become a medical doctor and researcher.
Klondike: Awesome. That's a field that I just find so exciting, I wish I could have had the opportunity to study that.
Klondike: And I know you're going to be so busy at Harvard, but are you gonna try to play guitar a little bit?
Aylin: Yes, you know my life has always had dualities and one that I’ve really embraced over the years is the science and art duality.
And so I definitely want to continue playing classical guitar while I'm studying neuroscience in college. I think expressing myself through music brings me a lot of joy and it's profoundly meaningful to perform and share that joy with others.
Klondike: Wonderful. You know, I don't get the chance to ask this, and be as honest as you can be-- not many students get to see Orpheus for a full 12 years, because you have to get started really young like you did. Have you noticed any changes over the years?
Aylin: Well I think over the years Orpheus has really built a family of engaged students and teachers, who are all eager to learn and develop together. Through private lessons and group musicianship classes, we've learned to read music, play our favorite songs, and create music with friends, and we've also had opportunities to play in public recitals both solo and with friends.
Orpheus has developed so many more initiatives over the years to further its social mission and has also been receptive to the ideas of students like me, and it has just been such a joyful experience and I'm so excited to see how the Orpheus community continues to grow.
Klondike: Well thank you, I'm so glad that they were all positive things. You're not like, “Oh you guys got so big and…” [laughs]. I really hope that as we’ve grown, we grow closer and we get to share more.
"Orpheus has developed so many more initiatives over the years to further its social mission and has also been receptive to the ideas of students like me."
Klondike: Those experiences of being a family, or the challenges that you overcame at Orpheus, are there any of those that you wanted to highlight that helped you in your amazing journey?
Aylin: Yeah, well I think Orpheus has not only taught me music, but also fundamental life skills such as self-discipline, grit, and self-esteem. And those skills have really helped me thus far in my education, and I'll carry them with me to college and beyond.
I think Orpheus has also taught me to follow my passions and collaborate to achieve meaningful goals, and really use my talents and capabilities to benefit society. And that has really inspired me to make a positive social impact wherever I go, and do it with love.
Klondike: Well that's exactly what I would want for any student. You really exemplify what we would like all students to take away.
Klondike: Do you have any advice for younger students about how they can make positive change happen?
Aylin: Yeah, well I would say no matter what your age is, you can definitely create positive change. If there's a cause that you're passionate about, even if people tell you that you're too young and you can't make an impact, I promise your opinions matter. And you can take action now to make a difference. So my advice would be to be proactive and ask for help when you need it. There's really no shame in asking for help, in fact it's a sign of strength.
I would recommend finding a mentor who inspires you and is available to support you, reach out to people in your community and online like on social media who share your vision and collaborate with them, but do so with your parents permission to be safe. And read relevant books and credible articles about the cause you're interested in.
I also want to emphasize that, while it can be great to have a big vision, it's okay and normal to start out small, see where the project goes, and then gradually expand it. And you don't have to do this alone. There's so many people to help, I'm one of them, and there might also be teachers, family, or friends who are willing. So take advantage of all the opportunities and support around you to do social good.
"If there's a cause that you're passionate about, even if people tell you that you're too young and you can't make an impact, I promise your opinions matter. And you can take action now to make a difference."
Klondike: Well thank you so much Aylin, and I know you've already inspired so many, and you will continue to do so as you go out into the world and make a big, big difference. So thank you, thank you, thank you for everything you've given to Orpheus!
Aylin: I couldn't have done it without the Orpheus community, so thank you so much Orpheus. Thank you!