Generations come together through the power of music

Laurelwood Public School teams up with the Village at University Gates

By Kristian Partington

Every Wednesday in the lead-up to the Christmas season, nearly 30 Grade 7/8 students from Waterloo’s Laurelwood Public School made the half-hour trek at the close of the school day to The Village at University Gates to rehearse alongside their new choir mates, a group of 15 village residents.  

On occasion the group had to grind through blasts of blizzard-like conditions and music therapist Melissa Jessop would smile to see them walk through the doors after trudging through the bleak winter weather, guitars, ukuleles and music stands in tow.  Such dedication was perhaps the first sign that the inaugural intergenerational choir was indeed a grand achievement, even before the final concert was offered on Dec. 21.

Laurelwood Student with Residents at University Gates
Laurelwood Public School students in the choir with
residents of The Village at University Gates.

“It was such a success for our residents here” Melissa says, “but also for the students who walked over here every Wednesday to sing with them. It wasn’t just a choir, it was a musical ensemble and they were fantastic.”

“It was just such a magical experience for everybody,” she adds, noting that after the concert, parents and family members approached her to explain what an impact the short program had on their loved ones, young and old alike. “After that it became crystal clear for me how meaningful this was and important for everybody involved.”

Melissa has been supporting residents at the village as a music therapist since the doors opened and had been considering new ways of engagement when the idea of the intergenerational choir presented itself. Laurelwood’s music instructor, Tracy Weber, who had studied in the same music program at Wilfred Laurier University as Melissa, had come to the village a year ago to assess potential rehearsal space for a different community choir. At the time Melissa thought: “I wonder if she would be interested in a collaboration?” She knew of Tracy’s keen ability to draw out the best in the people she works with, so the idea of bridging the students and residents was too good to resist.

“She is just such a gifted music teacher,” Melissa says of Tracy, “and it takes someone who is really excited, who is highly motivated, to envision something,” says Melissa.

What came from the vision was a wonderful connection between students and their elders that brought both groups together in song. “It just went so amazingly well. Family members were so supportive of the residents that we had involved here and so many parents of the students as well.”

The students, she admits, were shy at first but within a short amount of time the connections grew with music at the core. Respect for the elders shone through from the students and a sense of adoration emanated from the residents for their new young friends. To see both generations come together in a new experience and recognize the strengths of each other, Melissa says, was a wonderful experience to be part of and it opens the door for more collaboration in the future.