Orchestra Partnerships Bring ‘World-Class Talent’ to American House

American House Senior Living residents weren’t always composers, performers or patrons of the arts—but through a partnership with local orchestras, many of the residents can now call themselves all three. 

Bloomfield, Michigan-based American House, which has around 40 senior housing communities in Michigan, Illinois and Florida, has partnered with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO), Grand Rapids Symphony and the Naples Philharmonic in Florida to the delight of residents and the benefit of the symphonies. The partnership has resulted in increased community engagement, elegant senior living programming, and even an original song.

Tear-jerking treat

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The idea to partner with local orchestras originated back in 2012, according to American House COO Rob Gillette.

“I had friends and contacts at Detroit Symphony who reached out to me, looking to expand community engagement,” Gillette tells Senior Housing News. “It took on a life of its own, from that perspective.”

As part of the partnership, groups of two or three musicians visit 12 different American House communities in Michigan to perform for an hour in the lobby or dining room. Afterward, residents are treated to sparking juice and hors d’oeuvres. 

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Time after time, it’s an “elegant event” with “world-class talent,” Gillette says. But it’s also a way to reach residents who wouldn’t be able to enjoy the music otherwise.

“Folks who aren’t really mobile can enjoy the live music,” he explains.

Though American House does pay a year-to-year financial donation for the orchestras’ service, the result is priceless. 

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Often, residents ask the performers questions about the history of the music they’re playing and the instruments that are used to play it. Gillette recalls several tear-jerking moments, such as when a resident requested a musical trio play his late wife’s favorite song, or when an elderly gentleman broke out his trumpet to join the musicians for the first time in years.

A trip downtown

Though the musical visits proved worthwhile, soon other possibilities began to emerge. 

“I thought about how great it would be if the American House residents could come down for a concert, not late at night or at odd times—one specifically designed for them,” Gillette says. 

So, American House worked to arrange exactly that.

Now, once a year, the DSO and the Grand Rapids Symphony each host an hour-long private concert, exclusively for American House residents. About 1,000 residents make this pilgrimage annually, Gillette says.

The trip means different things to different seniors, he explains.

“Many of them will tell you it’s the first time they’ve ever been exposed to something of this caliber,” he says. “Others have come down with their husbands or wives in the past, but they didn’t know if they’d have the opportunity to do it again.”

Residents appreciate the ability to go downtown and experience the orchestra in its entirety, without having to go in the evening and fight any traffic. Last year, there was an added perk: the 240 members of the American House Choir performed an original composition on stage, accompanied by a string quartet.
 
The piece—The American House Anthem—was written by residents, with the help of composer Gabriela Frank.
 
Though there are no plans to write a new anthem anytime soon, next year, American House plans to partner with both Wayne State University’s Institute of Gerontology and the DSO to explore the benefits of music therapy in memory care. 

Written by Mary Kate Nelson

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