The Impact of Music and Art
- By Rimbo Wong
Bringing life, bringing in people together
One of my passions is to connect people from diverse backgrounds and different ages through music. I truly believe that music, as an universal language, can impart a fulfilling sense of unity among people. Having music as part of our voices to express ourselves will be especially powerful. There is so much ignorance and intolerance for each other in this world and music can help us survive it.
I have always been amazed by the efforts devoted into educating the youth in the arts. My colleagues at ArtistYear are all doing great work each day, dedicating their services to make our collective future brighter, focusing on children and young adults. Sometimes, I am taken aback when I notice the many different neglected communities falling through the cracks of society. That’s why my service year is devoted to two partner organizations that aim to serve the sick, the elderly and those who are trying to get back on their feet.
I visit patients suffering from different stages of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia at their homes. Many patients are not able to attend any live concerts; the intimate atmosphere of house concerts is much more stress-relieving and provides comfort. Music has a big impact on the patients’ emotional well-being. The very quiet and still patients become much more alive when they listen, and the anxious patients who shows agitated behaviors become much more calm. Each visit is so different and sometimes the challenges are you don’t know what to expect! However, I can always feel and see the direct responses the patients have when they hear the music, and it brings me so much joy to see the connection! It has also been meaningful to develop a relationship with the caregiver of the patients and hear their journeys as well (usually a spouse, sibling or close family member) as they are the constant source of support for the patients. There are still much to explore and experiment between music and its effect on brain degenerative diseases!
ArtistYear colleague TJ and I together serve two sites at Project HOME – Kate’s Place and Women of Change. Project HOME is not a shelter, but rather, an organization that aims to break the cycle of poverty and homelessness. All the residents there were previously homeless for at least a year. With the help of Project HOME’s permanent housing sites, new opportunities are available for them to contribute back to the society in various different ways.
We see the residents and lead activities 2-3 times a week. These two sites are very different. For Kate’s Place, the residents are more independent and live in individual unassisted apartments, so one of our goals is to bring a sense of community to the site and unite people with music. Women of Change houses a small group of women suffering from different degrees of mental illnesses. At WofC, we mainly aim to bring a sense of wellness and utilize music as a healing tool. A resident has said that when we start playing, the voices in her head quiet down and she is able to find peace. Sometimes, a resident would start crying because of a particularly moving song. When I see that, it’s hard to keep performing as it generates a very emotional atmosphere. This reminds me how powerful music can be.
At Kate’s Place, TJ and I perform weekly mini-concerts for the residents along with fellow Curtis undergrads. Sometimes we bring recordings of great classical repertoire and also play songs they are familiar with and explore different composition techniques together. Often while we are playing, the residents will just break out singing along or improvising. We provide some background about these pieces and by doing so, it always sparks interesting conversations that lead to sharing personal experiences. The subjects are sometimes delightful, sometimes emotionally heavy. All the stories all so unique and I felt like each one can be shot into a movie scene! Lately, we also started a songwriting workshop that allowed the residents to each express themselves through writing their own compositions. We brainstorm ideas together and listen. The residents also give feedbacks and help each other. A few people have told us that “things like music making keeps me sane” and “[thanks for] helping breathe life into my music”. This was from a resident who had written a musical that takes place in Rio de Janeiro; he has written the story for more than fifteen years, but wasn’t able to put music to it! He is glad to finally start to put together what he had imagined all along, with exciting samba rhythms and music that helps the lyrics provoke vivid festive imageries. It has been an eye-opening experience for me; the creativity and possibility are simply endless! I really look forward to continuing this journey and experiencing this process of making music with such a creative community!