Early in his music directorship for the CSO, Maestro Muti expressed an interest in making the orchestral experience more accessible for pensioners and the elderly. This catalyzed an existing proposal within the CSOA League’s Senior Outreach Committee to bring seniors to Open Rehearsals. Guided by the work of Nancy Woulfe and Margo Oberman, the committee has since brought approximately 1,500 seniors to Open Rehearsals.
There are many stories to tell about the experiences these seniors have had at Symphony Center; about how warmly Maestro Muti welcomes them; how special the experience was for those born in Europe who were revisiting for the first time music they’d heard during their childhoods overseas; how vital was the opportunity to enjoy performances at Symphony Center and spend a little extra time downtown; how an 85 year-old audience member celebrated her birthday by meeting the lead from Otello; how a senior group was full of questions and wonder at a Q&A following the rehearsal for Mason Bates’ Alternative Energy. But lest the narrator intrude overmuch in the recounting, the audience members themselves should describe their own experience. The following is a letter to Nancy Woulfe from Sheri Wishnia of CJE SeniorLife members :
The two downtown Adult Day Programs of CJE SeniorLife had a great opportunity to attend a Chicago Symphony Orchestra rehearsal, conducted by renowned Riccardo Muti. Members of both “CJE at Sinai” and the Culture Bus invited one family member, or care partner, to accompany them. With their love for classical music, they talked about and looked forward to this wonderful event for many weeks.
Gathering our group of 30 people in the crowded lobby of Orchestra Hall took pre-planning, cooperation, and communication. Thanks to a wise suggestion from Margo Oberman, the CJE SeniorLife Board Member who helped us get our tickets, we all met at the Adams Street entrance. To make it easier to find each other, everyone in our group knew to look for colorful helium balloons that I would be holding high in the air. This worked like a charm, and with the help of staff member Ralitza and volunteers Anne and Ashley, the early arrivers found places to sit and relax inside by the rotunda. When everybody arrived, our group of 30 people, accompanied and supported by CJE SeniorLife CEO, Mark Weiner, entered Orchestra Hall, with its inspiring architecture and ornate décor.
We took our seats as the numerous and talented musicians sitting on stage tuned up. Our group grew quiet when Maestro Riccardo Muti reached the podium. As the powerful music reached out to their ears, they reached out to the music. One member stood up, her hands stretching toward the beautiful sounds. Some couples in our group reached out to each other, holding hands. While Music Director Muti drew glorious sounds from his musicians, he seemed gracious and friendly, occasionally turning to the audience with a charming grin. Our group felt privileged to watch the rehearsal process. Afterwards, and days later, the members continued to talk about Muti’s commanding style, how he would occasionally stop the players to help them better understand their musical portions, or assist them in refining their technique. As a result, our members were enchanted, enjoying the symphony, with the musicians working together under Riccardo Muti’s skilled baton.
It is an incredible opportunity to be able to offer this experience, to these group members. Many of them love classical music, and at least one was a classical music pianist. Our members benefited from this in many ways. They were deeply moved. Although they have dementia, one member said, smiling, that it was something she will remember for a long time. One man, who because of his illness has trouble finding words, expressed himself by telling me “it was very special.” Another said she used to go the symphony, but can’t get there on her own anymore. The members were heartened to feel that orchestra music is still available to them.
This is all thanks to the hard work, caring, and dedication of the several people who donated the tickets and arranged for us to attend this very special event.
Thank you all very much.
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