TORONTO -- Residents at The Mariann Home in Richmond Hill were treated to an afternoon of live music on Monday, thanks to a socially-distant concert performance.

“I thought it was wonderful,” says Paula Ruttan, program volunteer manager at the home. “Our residents are really in need of some music. It brings them joy.”

The concert was put on by seven different performers who make up ‘Students for Music and Wellness.’ Every day this week, the group is travelling to a different long-term care home in the Greater Toronto Area to play some music.

“Elderly people are very vulnerable during this time, not just to the virus but also just to the isolation,” says Julian Cimer, music director of the program.

“We’re just looking for a way to come support the elderly community because the long-term care homes have been one of the most at-risk populations,” adds Harrison Gao, co-creator of the group. “We want to give them something to look forward to, something to take their minds off what is happening.”

The singers and musicians take turns performing songs from a repertoire carefully selected with the audience in mind. Some seniors watch from a patio, while others enjoy the music from a window.


For some, the concert brought up emotional feelings.

“Crying,” one resident says when asked what she thought of the concert. “Because I’ve been away from the music for so long,” she explains.

“It brings them positive memories of their family,” Ruttan says. “Being isolated right now, it hasn’t been easy for them and to have the students come and perform for the residents, it’s amazing.”

Many long-term care homes in Ontario regularly had live music performances regularly before COVID-19. Students for Music and Wellness says music is one of the most “accessible” art forms.

“Music is always a conversation between the audience and the performer, and I think that connection is enough to give people a really big morale boost in a tough time,” says Cimer.

“I think music has been the greatest way to connect with [seniors],” says Gao. “They have a lot of barriers, and music is that one thing that they can all enjoy and something that they can all attend.”

Students for Music and Wellness was able to make the outdoor concert series happen thanks to a Rising Youth Grant from the government of Canada, which covers costs of equipment rentals.

The group will be visiting long-term care homes in Richmond Hill, North York, Unionville, Stouffville and Aurora this week, and hope to return for more scheduled visits soon.

“Anytime there’s a need for us to come in and play some great music, we’ll put the time and effort in,” says Gao. “It’s all worth it to us. We’re just trying to come out here, support the mental and emotional health of these residents and put our heart and soul into the music that we’re playing.”