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Blog · Community & Lifestyle

The power of music

Although the last few months have been quite different for many Aveo residents, some have taken the changes in their stride and done everything they can to keep spirits high.

One of these residents is Alan, resident at Botanic Gardens Retirement Living, who has been filling the air with music from his autoharp and keeping residents entertained with physically distant musical performances. 

We reached out to Alan to discover his passion for music and see why he loves calling his community home.

Can you tell us about yourself and how you ended up living at Botanic Gardens?

"I’m 73 years of age, and have a background in engineering and electronics. Having left school at 15, I spent a few years trying my hand at various occupations including mining and general labouring, before taking up a traineeship with, the then, Postmaster General’s Department as a Trainee Lineman. It must have suited me, as my career with them lasted some 35 years, with postings throughout Australia and the Asia/Pacific region. I retired as National Manager for Technical Standards with Telstra’s Contract Management Group.

"I have been married, had 3 children (one boy, two girls) all of whom live in Tasmania. They have blessed me with 7 grandchildren and 5 great grandchildren.

"My recreational pastimes include aviation (I hold a private pilot’s licence, and at one time had my own aircraft – sadly medical considerations have grounded me), shooting at a competition level (I still give the young ones a run for their money), camping, and music.

"A few years after retirement, I found myself living alone, in a large house (which I couldn’t really afford), with very little capital and a limited income. I spent a while looking at various living options before settling on Botanic Gardens, as I wanted somewhere that provided a pleasant environment, allowed me my independence and privacy, while at the same time allowed me to be a part of a community where I could participate in the communal life as much (or, as little) as I wanted – and, it had to be affordable! For me, Botanic Gardens meets all of these criteria."

Are you passionate about music?

"You could say that I am passionate about music, although the passion did not come until late in life. I have always loved listening to music, which I guess came from my mother, she loved the old musicals and opera classics and was always singing around our home. My tastes, on the other hand, leaned towards folk, country & western, and later, rock and roll – I think mum was a little miffed at this!

"It was not until I turned 65 that the passion started! I was camping with a group of people in western Queensland, and, one evening we had a communal singalong, at which I discovered that I could sing! They encouraged me to keep at it, to join a music club, to learn to play an instrument – all of which I have done, and I now I find that I have gone full-circle and find myself in the position of mentoring other aspiring musicians – I derive a great deal of satisfaction from that.

"I am constantly amazed at the power of music – it can be healing and relaxing, while at the same time influencing the emotions of both the performer and the listener. I derive a great deal of satisfaction when I know, within myself, that I have performed a song well, and  when I look around an audience and see smiles (and sometimes tears) because of my performance – that is a really great feeling!

"To say that music has opened up a new life for me is an understatement! Through music I have met some amazing people, and formed some beautiful friendships, the world of music is like a great big family, but without the usual family squabbles – always encouraging and supportive.

"I love the fact that music can be performed anywhere, I’m always happy to be performing on-stage, with all the bells and whistles, but I feel equally at home when sitting in on an informal jam session, or busking on the street, or doing a little show in a retirement community or aged care facility, or just sitting in my music room playing for my own pleasure."

How long have you been playing the autoharp?

"I’ve been playing the Autoharp for around 8 years and am self-taught. I took it up for several reasons – its versatility, it always featured in the old-time country music that I love, it’s relatively easy to play and produces a beautiful sound, and, it fits in quite nicely when played in concert with other stringed instruments. I also play around with guitar, mandolin, and dulcimer, but the Autoharp is my primary instrument. I like to refer to it as “37 strings of pure bliss”. Another good point is that not many musicians play them – so it immediately makes you stand out from the crowd!"

How have you been keeping residents entertained with music in the past few months?

"The last few months have been difficult! I’ve adopted a couple of strategies that provide, at least, a degree of entertainment. If the weather is nice, I open up the windows in my unit and play in my lounge room with a little boost from a small PA unit – this lets the music escape, and there’s always an audience of sorts as fellow residents pass my unit on their daily walk.

"I extended this recently when I participated in the international “Play Music on the Porch” day. For that, I placed a full sound system on my front porch and used my open doorway as a stage. Word got around – as it does in a community – and people altered the time of their walks to coincide with the performance – a mobile audience! 

"More recently, the community has established their own Facebook page, so I now make short music videos from the music room in my unit (also known as the second bedroom) and post these to the page. Not as good as a live performance, because there is no interaction with the audience, but at least it provides a little bit of normality for the residents. I do this 4 or 5 times a week and it appears to be well received."

Did you find having to change the way you share your music with fellow residents challenging?

"A definite challenge! Under normal circumstances I will invite a group of fellow musicians to come to the community centre, on a Sunday afternoon, for an informal “jam” session – usually 10-15 musos. There is no formal program, it’s very casual, with each muso taking it in turn to lead a song, while the rest of us accompany them. Residents – usually numbering 30-40, love the spontaneity that this format produces, they love the fact that they can interact with the musos, and also participate if they wish. The face-to-face interaction works both ways, with the musos having as much fun as the audience. At the end of the session, musos and audience intermingle for a little bit of socialising. Sharing via Facebook is fine, but the lack of personal interaction makes it a second choice only."

What kinds of songs or music do the residents enjoy hearing from you?

"As far as musical preferences are concerned, our residents are a diverse bunch. I try to include a little bit of everything when performing, so a typical set might contain some early rock (from the 50s & 60s), some old–timey country and bluegrass, some contemporary numbers, even at times some old country gospel numbers. This format tends to keep everyone happy – if a resident has a request particular song or songs that they would like to hear, I do my very best to accommodate them, if not at the current session, then at a future one. I do make a point of asking if there is a particular song, or genre of songs, that they don’t want – they don’t hesitate to let me know!"

What are the residents like at Botanic Gardens?

"I have found that the majority of our residents form a friendly, welcoming, community! They are diverse in their interests, likes, and dislikes, but what community isn’t? I love them all!" 

Do you have any memorable stories from living at Botanic Gardens that you would like to share?

"I once had a lady resident ring me, to ask if I would play at her funeral! I was a little taken aback at this, however this was a very organised lady! After a bit of thought I agreed to do it, and she proceeded to specify the type of music she wanted. I noted this all down and filed the details away, and didn’t give it any further thought – other than to think how unusual the request was.

"Several weeks later I was camping at Swan Hill when I received a call from the lady’s daughter to inform me that her mum had passed, and that she was organising the funeral in accordance with her mum’s wishes. She advised me of the date and place for the funeral, and was letting me know because mum had documented our arrangement regarding the music! I had a couple of days to pack up the camp and get back to Botanic Gardens, rehearse, and perform! Which I did, and considered it a privilege to do so.

"Another item that comes to mind is the twilight concert that was suggested as an entertainment opportunity by the community staff. Instead of being confined by the Community Centre, we decided to use the patio of the dining room as a stage, with the audience located on the adjacent lawns, and to stage the concert, just as the sun was setting.

"It was a stunning success! Four bands were organised, along with a professional sound system, BBQs were fired up, and a couple of food/drink vans organised. The weather was perfect, the music was great, and, our residents had a whale of a time! 

"A number of residents have asked me to run a repeat of the event for this year, and I would love to, however, much will depend on the current pandemic situation resolving itself."

For someone that may be unsure about retirement living at Botanic Gardens, what would you say to encourage them?

"Do your homework – living in a retirement community is not for everybody, but is a unique lifestyle! Prior to “signing on the dotted line”, try and attend, as our guest, some of the functions and activities available to our residents -  mix and talk with the residents themselves, in order to get a resident’s perspective on community living."

Anything else you’d like to add?

"I and, I am sure, the bulk of my fellow residents really appreciate the efforts made by our Community Manager, and his team, in these difficult times – however they can only do so much! Ultimately it is how we behave, as residents, that determines the quality of our communal lifestyle. I am more than happy if my efforts are seen as a positive contributor to that end!"

Click below to discover Alan's community, Botanic Gardens.

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