Aylin Tanriverdi has been playing classical guitar since she was 6.
She particularly likes the music of Ana Vidovic, a guitarist originally from Croatia who now lives in the United States.
That love is something the Westwood High senior shared with her father. In her early days of taking lessons at Austin’s Orpheus Academy of Music, she and her father would play a lot of duets, but she quickly passed her father’s abilities.
Now, Aylin, 17, is drawing on her family’s shared appreciation for classical guitar music to create Orpheus’ Musical Postcards for Seniors program.
Aylin has been trying to stay connected with her own grandparents during the coronavirus pandemic through video calls in which she plays music for them.
Her grandfather asked her to play a virtual guitar concert. "What started out as one concert for him turned into a weekly concert," she says.
If her grandparents were enjoying this, she thought, would other seniors like the connection that music played by kids for them could bring?
She also was aware of news stories about the impact COVID-19 was having on nursing homes around the country.
Aylin reached out to the staff at Orpheus to see if other students would like to make videos of themselves playing pieces and talking about pieces or something about their lives.
Now Orpheus’ students record themselves playing and Aylin edits the clips into one video each week that is about 10 to 15 minutes long and features several students. Often students are sitting outside as they play. Sometimes they are inside their houses.
The teachers also work with the students to get them ready to record their pieces.
"This is not the first time Aylin came up with an initiative at Orpheus. ... She’s kind of an overachiever," says Klondike Steadman, the co-founder and director of musical arts at Orpheus.
For Orpheus, this is the virtual extension of programs in which students have gone in person to nursing homes.
"One of the most powerful things kids can feel is that it’s making a difference in the world," Steadman says.
One of the challenges always is teaching kids to love practicing. The postcards, he says, have "been one of the most exciting motivators."
Kids are eager to practice to get ready to make the video, to play for the seniors and then to enroll in more classes, he says.
Orpheus has been able to continue through the pandemic with one-on-one lessons virtually as well as ensemble classes and composing courses, all virtually.
Orpheus has kept students in its classes even if they’ve had a loss of family income, because of a grant from Facebook.
Aylin first reached out to local nursing homes, starting with Brookdale Spicewood Springs. One center turned into more than 750 in 28 states, four Canadian provinces and territories, and three Australian states and territories. She’s working to get the videos into the United Kingdom as well.
"I wasn’t expecting to expand globally," she says.
It has been challenging sometimes, she says. Only about 22% of the centers she contacts respond.
"I think these concerts could be pretty beneficial to them," she says.
Victoria Anderson, the lifestyle coordinator at Overture Arboretum active adult community in Austin, shared the program with other communities owned by Greystar.
For her own residents, she has been sending them an email with the link to the weekly video each Monday. She says that unlike some virtual programs, this one is particularly easy for the residents to access. Each week, about 60 to 70 residents of the 120 at Overture Arboretum click on the link and watch.
"They absolutely love it," she says. "They always ask me when we will be able to have it here so we can meet them in person."
A lot of her residents enjoy theater and live music.
"It gives them a little bit of that back," Anderson says. "It gives them a little bit of spark of hope and joy for sure," she says.
The Musical Postcards for Seniors program is now starting to get students submitting a second round of videos, and Aylin plans to continue the program throughout the school year. Right now she’s spending about 10 hours to 15 hours a week editing videos and contacting centers.
She plans to do a bunch of editing before the school year starts so she has a backlog of videos to offer the centers.
"Definitely what’s surprised me is the positive response from Orpheus’ students and teachers," she says. "It really made a special connection. Friends, brothers, students of all ages got together and are willing to share their music."