In the spring, River Hill High School’s Songs for Seniors club — a group of music students who visit senior living facilities and perform — was one of those clubs that had to stop due to the pandemic.
This summer, however, when the future of the club was uncertain, Victoria Cheng, Songs for Seniors’ student president, and other students in the club stepped up and developed a new way to keep performing.
Like almost everything in 2020, the club transitioned to virtual, gathering individual performances from students with different instruments, combining them into one video and sending them to different senior living facilities in the county.
“One of the places COVID-19 affected the most are the senior homes,” Cheng said. “I knew we couldn’t go to them in person, so I could’ve easily said that we can’t do this and take a year off. Instead, I thought that if music can brighten their day just a little bit, that we could compile a video once a month for them to listen to.”
Since October, the club has compiled monthly, hourlong recitals to send to several different nursing homes and senior living communities. Songs for Seniors’ December performance was nearly an hour-and-a-half with 36 different songs by more than 40 students.
“They get to see the impact they can make and the smiles they get just by sharing a little bit of their talent,” said River Hill band director and Songs for Seniors staff sponsor Michael Blackman.
“Since we take music as a class, kids are always focused on the grade. This helps them see that music can be a lifelong endeavor to spread a little joy,” Blackman said.
When Cheng first joined the band at River Hill as a freshman, she was shy. Looking back, she’s surprised how far she’s come, from the quiet clarinet player who was “scared to talk to anyone” to the president of the Songs for Seniors club, which she joined as a sophomore.
“I joined a little family of Songs for Seniors, and sharing my music has definitely helped me grow,” she said.
“She’s amazing,” Blackman said. “She came in nervous, but now she’s poised and is an amazing player. It’s been awesome to see her grow.”
The club started at River Hill about seven years ago, Blackman said. Atman Panigrahi, a student at the time, created the idea for the club and asked Blackman to be its sponsor.
“Once I heard his idea, I couldn’t say no to sponsoring it,” said Blackman, who is in his 11th year at River Hill and 30th teaching in the Howard County Public School System.
On average, Blackman said, the group would visit a senior living facility once every two weeks and about a dozen students would perform.
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Cheng said the best part of being part of the club was seeing how happy the older adults were during the performances.
“Every time we’d perform the seniors were always super nice to us,” she said. “They’d laugh and sing and dance and smile while we played. That was the best part. After we were done, we’d have seniors coming up to us and talking about their experience in music.”
To put the videos together, students send in their individual performances, and Cheng and the club’s other two student officers, Alvin Kang and Geena Lin, put together, caption and edit the video. The video is then sent to retirement communities like Millers Grant in Ellicott City and Arbor Terrace in Fulton, among others.
“I am completely awed by how lovely they all sound and how professional they are,” said Diane Kull, a 77-year-old who lives at Millers Grant. “Their talent is unbelievable to me. We’ve been isolated for many months now, and for these kids to send us this to watch is wonderful for us.”
Since the performances are online, Cheng hopes other senior living facilities become interested in the club’s recitals. She said any interested nursing homes or senior communities can email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.