By Kristian Partington
Under the high ceilings and bright airy windows of the Town Square in the Village of Winston Park, the raw power, beauty and grace of the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony recently settled into the hearts of residents, team members, families and guests who had gathered there for an extraordinary concert.
The mid-December event was the first opportunity for symphony musicians to connect to life in the village under its newly launched Health and Wellness Program, designed to connect the symphony to its community beyond the 100 or so more traditional concerts it performs each year.
Following the concert that December afternoon was a unique opportunity for residents and guests to interact with the musicians beside the fireplace in the lounge to learn about the instruments and the people who make them sing.
“It was incredible,” says Winston Park director of retirement care Chris-Anne Preston. “Afterwards, I felt like I went to church; it was so amazing.” Recalling the power she felt that day as the music swept through the village, emotions begin to well inside of Chris-Anne. “They say that music is food for the soul and I feel like we’ve just had a rich feast,” she remembers telling the gathered crowd as she thanked the musicians for the gifts they shared with the village.
Chris Sharpe, the interim director of development and donor relations with the symphony, says the impact of that first concert at Winston Park went far beyond what he was expecting. “It goes both ways,” Chris says. “This was a fantastic opportunity for us and this partnership has already reaped a lot of benefits and there’s lots of potential for it to grow.”
There are 12 more sessions booked where smaller groups of symphony musicians will visit the village to spend time with residents, teaching a bit about music appreciation and learning what they can from the residents they interact with. “For me, that’s one of the most moving parts of doing this work,” Chris says, recalling the smiles he saw on the faces of residents the first time they pulled a bow across the strings of a cello or drew a note from a flute. “We’ve sort of scratched the surface with this and we’re looking forward to growing.”
On a personal level, Chris says the experience challenged the very notion of what retirement living and long-term care looked like in his mind.
“I have the utmost respect for what they’re doing at Winston Park,” he says. “I was completely blown away the moment I walked in because . . . you may have a stereotyped view of what a retirement residence is like or a long-term care home is like, and this did not fit anything that I had in my head. It was an atmosphere that immediately showed me that there is a lot of positive work going on here, that the residents are genuinely happy and getting what they need out of life; they’re active, they’re engaged and the staff are clearly happy with what their role is.”
Not long afterwards, Chris took an extended tour of the village as he’s now set to become a regular volunteer there, beyond what he’s already committed to in his role with the symphony. Music and its effect on Health and Wellness first brought him to the village, and the fast connections he made with those who live and work there conspired to make him a regular part of village life. In terms of fostering community for both Winston Park and the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, there are perhaps no better examples of success.