Windsor

Can't take seniors to the symphony? Retirement home creates theatre to bring music to them

With COVID-19 keeping the symphony's seats empty, Cardinal Place in Windsor's west end has put together its very own theatre system, allowing residents there to enjoy the sounds of the Windsor Symphony Orchestra without having to leave the retirement home.

Music therapy a way of combating social isolation for the elderly

Sandra Gignac, 74, has lived at the Cardinal Place retirement home for about 13 months. She says the ability to hear orchestral music from the home's new theatre is 'therapeutic' for her. (Sanjay Maru/CBC)

With COVID-19 keeping the symphony's seats empty, Cardinal Place in Windsor's west end has put together its very own theatre system, allowing residents there to enjoy the sounds of the Windsor Symphony Orchestra without having to leave the retirement home.

"It's exhilarating. It really does have a a therapeutic value to it," said 74-year-old Sandra Gignac, a resident of Cardinal Place for a little more than a year.

She's among the many residents now able to access a theatre within the retirement home. It's a place they can go to experience a similar atmosphere as a live auditorium — a place that is currently inaccessible due to the pandemic.

A theatre may never have been added to Cardinal Place if not for the pandemic. Prior to March, the retirement home was expected to sponsor one of the WSO's concerts. The event ended up being cancelled due to COVID-19 — but the orchestra pivoted to producing virtual concerts.

"We can't bring the seniors from Cardinal Place here to the symphony. Let's bring the symphony to the seniors," said Mike Cardinal, owner of the retirement home.

The theatre doesn't just serve as a way of improving residents' moods, Cardinal said. It's also a way of tapping into the benefits of music therapy on mental, emotional and even physical health.

The theatre has been up and running at Cardinal Place for a few weeks. (Sanjay Maru/CBC)

"Music is particularly beneficial for people struggling with a change of location, memory loss, and social isolation. Listening to music helps them to remember familiar places and events and make associations with happy times through musical memories."

To know that the Windsor Symphony Orchestra is able to provide a partial remedy for some of the social isolation that many residents of long-term care and retirement homes feel is "extraordinary," according to WSO music director Robert Franz.

Listening to music helps them to remember familiar places and events and make associations with happy times through musical memories.- Mike Cardinal, owner of the Cardinal Place retirement home, on the power of music for residents

He added that the "science is clear" in terms of how the brain activates when actively listening to music — and that the benefits can be powerful for people of all ages.

"This is true at the beginning of your life and it's true in the sunset of your life and in all parts in between," said Franz.

"Especially now, so many people are feeling isolated in so many different ways. It was really important to us when all of this went down last March ... to bring home the idea that music is so much more than just the sounds that we make, but it's a way to connect with each other."

Mike Cardinal, owner of the Cardinal Place retirement home, says music is beneficial for people struggling social isolation. (Sanjay Maru/CBC)

Gignac said she's excited to attend the in-home theatre for the purposes of "camaraderie" and socialization with her fellow residents.

"That's what it's all about. People needing people," the 74-year-old said, referring to the theatre as a "healing factor."

"I take advantage of as much of the healing as I can, because I'm a very outgoing individual."

About the Author

Sanjay Maru is a reporter at CBC Windsor. Email him at sanjay.maru@cbc.ca.

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