Faced with more time alone and indoors than ever before, many people spent the pandemic exploring new hobbies or learning new skills as a way to pass the time and distract from uncertainty.
As Audrey Quackenhush and her fellow residents at Legion Manor Retirement Living in Saanichton proved with their first-ever ukulele concert on Aug. 2, there is no age limit to learning new skills, and learning to play a musical instrument brings with it many benefits.
“I loved it, it was excellent. I had never held a ukulele before in my life, but I thought I would go for it,” said Quackenhush, who is almost 100. “I realized soon after I could do the strumming just as well as anyone else, and it’s just been so much fun. I’m much more musical than I thought I was.”
Since November, a dozen residents at the home have been learning to play the ukulele in a music therapy program under the guidance of recreation coordinator Rebecca Olsen.
Compared to other instruments, it allows each resident to have their own, eliminating a potential point for COVID to spread, Olsen said. The fact it was also a fun and flexible instrument only made it better.
“I figured if I could get everyone ukuleles and tune them to different keys and then play along with pre-recorded music, we could learn strum patterns and it worked out really well,” said Olsen.
Olsen said music therapy of any kind is very valuable in a seniors’ home. Whether it is singing, playing instruments, or simply listening to someone else perform, the results are always positive, and very often are nearly instant.
She said residents who may be quiet and keep to themselves very quickly become active again once music is involved.
Beyond simply bringing a bit of joy to the room, interactive music therapy – like the ukulele band – is an important social activity for the residents, a benefit Quackenhush was especially appreciative of.
“The camaraderie is one of the biggest things,” said Quackenhush. “You come into a place like this and you don’t know anyone, you wonder what is going to happen. But then you do something like this where you all get together, and in no time at all, you are all good friends when you haven’t had good friends in a long time once you get to my age. It’s just lovely.”
With the first concert a success, plans are already in place for the program to continue and grow. Olsen said three more residents are interested in joining, and another concert is likely to be held in the fall.
At some point, she hopes the band will be able to host a public performance to get the community involved, but for the near future at least, it will remain a special treat for close friends and family only.