Early in 2022, the Steinhardt Program in Piano Studies partnered with Sunrise East 56, an assisted living community on the upper east side, to bring live performances to seniors. Initiated by NYU Silver School alumna Alyssa Friedman, the program has been going strong since day one and Friedman’s goal is to keep it going.
What is your position at Sunrise East 56?
I am program director and oversee activities and community partnerships. Part of my job is helping new residents transition to assisted living. I work with the families as well.
How did the partnership begin with NYU?
As an NYU alumna, this was one of the first partnerships I pursued after joining Sunrise East in 2021. I contacted the Music and Performing Arts Professions Program (MPAP) who put me in touch with Marilyn Nonken, Director of Piano Studies (now Chair of MPAP). She was very receptive to the idea. We talked about the logistics of putting a program together and the mutual benefit it would have for both residents and students.
How often do the NYU students come?
Two to three Wednesdays each month; they play 45 minutes to an hour on our Steinway baby grand. Seniors like having consistency and routine, and knowing they have this performance to look forward to regularly helps provide that.
What is the average age of your residents?
Many of our residents are in their 80’s. Our clientele are very well educated. Many have masters or doctorate degrees. A handful are NYU alumni. We have lawyers, finance executives and many business professionals. We have an eight pillar activity calendar, which provides for a well rounded and fully engaged client. Two of the pillars are anticipation and melody. NYU performances fill this.
How do the residents respond?
We have two neighborhoods here. One is assisted living and the other is Reminiscence, our memory care neighborhood, for those struggling with more pronounced dementia challenges. Both groups come to hear the students play and everyone stays fully engaged. A client may not remember what year it is, but they’ll remember a song they loved years ago. That’s one of the hardest parts of dementia, the short-term memory is affected first.
How do students engage with the residents?
They always start by introducing themselves and sharing a bit about what they will be playing. Performing before a live and captivated audience is great practice for the students. One of our female residents isolates and rarely leaves her room, but she never misses these performances. A gentleman, who recently passed, used his walker to go up to the piano after each performance to thank the students and chat for a little bit. Music feeds the soul and it gives our residents a feeling of accomplishment and pride to know they attended a show, hummed along and enjoyed themselves. I love being a fly on the wall later at dinner when I hear them talking about what was played, “Did you see the wonderful performance today, wasn’t it great.”