Ann Arbor program brings safe classical concerts to senior communities' backyards during COVID

The Ann Arbor Camerata's Doorstep Serenades program presents outdoor classical music for senior community residents, who listen from their windows and balconies.
 
The COVID-19 pandemic left people around the world feeling isolated, but members of the Ann Arbor Camerata have been working to bring some happiness in the form of music to those who were suffering the most. The nonprofit created a program called Doorstep Serenades, which brought COVID-19-safe classical music concerts to senior living communities in Washtenaw County. 

The Ann Arbor Camerata, which aims to address barriers to inclusivity and accessibility in classical music, had been planning a series of performances at bars on Ann Arbor's Main Street before the pandemic hit. Those performances were cancelled as Michigan’s COVID-19 policies closed down public spaces for safety. 

After a few weeks of uncertainty, Ann Arbor Camerata members started brainstorming different ways they could safely start producing concerts for the community again. They pitched an idea to the Washtenaw County Health Department of having performers stand outside senior living centers and play classical music for the residents while they listen from their windows and balconies.



"It was really just sort of brainstorming who is really hurting the most right now," says Thomas Militello, artistic director of Ann Arbor Camerata. "Who could really use some joy and music in their lives, and how are performances even possible?"

The Ann Arbor Camerata has hosted 14 Doorstep Serenades performances since May 2020. The performances stopped in October for the colder months, but they'll resume next month.

Most of the performances so far have taken place in Ann Arbor, plus a few in Ypsilanti. Concerts have been held at centers including Brookhaven Manor Senior Living, Balfour Senior Living, Regency At Bluffs Park, and Atria Park

The Ann Arbor Camerata has received an overwhelming amount of praise from appreciative residents, and requests for encore performances. In some cases residents have followed the musicians from a safe distance as they walked around the complex, just so the residents could continue to listen to the music.

"We enjoyed knowing that this was done specifically for us, and [the performances] gave us something to look forward to," says Brookhaven Manor Senior Living resident Sue Gikas.
 
The staff at senior communities have even noticed a difference in the emotional wellbeing of their residents after hosting these performances. 
Salvador Flores, Walt Puyear, Andrew MacRossie, and Matthew Koester during an Ann Arbor Camerata performance at Kerrytown Farmers Market.
"When we started the Doorstep Serenades, we were not really sure how it would be received or how well it would work, but watching people come out to their balconies to listen to the performers as they slowly made their way around the building was a great feeling," says Summer Burgess, activity director at Brookhaven Manor Senior Living. "After each performance the residents all talked about how nice it was and it really helped boost morale."
 
The musicians also appreciated the opportunity to perform, since many of their performances were cancelled due to the pandemic.
 
"When COVID-19 hit, [there were] pretty much no performances because we weren’t allowed to gather," says Militello. "So [the musicians] were just extremely grateful to get a paycheck and perform for people in this creative, but also very impactful, service-driven way." 
 
Now that COVID-19 vaccinations are being widely distributed and whole senior living communities are being vaccinated, the Ann Arbor Camerata is working with senior living community staff to hopefully plan indoor performances soon. The performances currently only feature about four musicians, but organizers hope to soon expand to 12 musicians performing at a time. 
 
Because Doorstep Serenades has been so well received by musicians and audiences, the Ann Arbor Camerata plans to continue the program even when COVID-19 is no longer a significant threat.
 
"I personally believe that no matter what you like to listen to, music is good for the soul," Gikas says. "It was very nice to have people willing to perform that way for us during such a difficult time."

For more Concentrate coverage of our community's response to the COVID-19 crisis, click here.
 
Maria Patton is a lifelong Ypsilanti resident. She is currently a student at the University of Michigan, working towards a bachelor’s degree in communications and media. You can find more of her work in The Michigan Daily, where she is a columnist for the Michigan in Color section. She can be reached at pattonma@umich.edu.

All photos by Doug Coombe.