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Lullabies as Legacies: The Iris Music Project Collaborates with Weinberg Villages Senior Living Community

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Lullabies are a conduit for the dreams of younger generations. At the same time, they can connect us to the generations that came before. On May 21st, as part of a multi-day music festival, seven residents of Weinberg Villages Senior Living Community in Owings Mills, will present personally composed lullabies produced in collaboration with Marcy Marxer and Cathy Fink—Grammy-winning songwriters from the Baltimore Classical Guitar Society (BCGS)—and professional musicians, Catherine Mikelson (cellist), Diana Sanchez (violinist), and Alina Antonenko (pianist). Mikelson, Sanchez, and Antonenko are members of the Iris Music Project (IMP), a non-profit that uses music to vitalize residential and healthcare communities and transform them into “spaces of creative exchange.”

Taking place on May 18th, 19th, and 21st, the 2023 Weinberg Village Music Festival is the culmination of a two-year partnership between IMP and the residents of Weinberg Villages. Funding for the Festival is supported by a Challenge America Grant provided by the National Endowment for the Arts. The lullabies will be performed on the 21st by the IMP music trio and a guest singer. Lyrics written by the residents will be displayed behind the musicians. 

Though the event on the 21st is open to the public, says IMP founder and Peabody Conservatory graduate, Lauren Latessa, “bringing in the public wasn’t our primary goal.” Rather, the festival is meant to provide a space where Weinberg Villages residents and their musical partners can gather to experience and sing along to the lullabies together. 

 

Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer
Cathy Fink and Weinberg Villages residents.
IMP’s work with Weinberg Villages has centered on the philosophy that music holds the potential to energize, grow, and enrich spaces dedicated to the retired and/or elderly.

How do the participants feel about their upcoming debut? Says Les, a Weinberg Villages resident, “Maybe I’ll be lucky and…[my] three granddaughters will use my [lullaby] when they have kids. I’m hoping it’ll be sort of like a legacy.” The musicians share the residents’ excitement: “these group concerts,” comments IMP cellist, Catherine Mikelson, “[spark]…this deeper connection with who one is, [a resident’s] sense of self, their history.” 

Legacy, connection, relationship-building, self-expressionthemes woven into the fabric of IMP’s underlying mission and philosophy will be on display, in musical form, on May 21st.      

In designing and producing the Festival, IMP worked closely with Asgerdur Sigurdardottir, president and CEO of BCGS and project manager of The Lullaby Project, an ongoing creative endeavor that started in Carnegie Hall and has since expanded across an array of communities including, most recently, Annapolis Family Support Center, Center for Family Success, and Weinberg Villages. 

Latessa says of the collaboration, “We [IMP and Sigurdardottir] put our heads together and asked ourselves how we could use lullabies to address older communities.” The Lullaby Project initially focused on teen mothers and their newborn babies. 

The Weinberg Village Music Festival is one of a multitude of collaborative projects IMP has developed since the non-profit’s birth in 2019. Like all its partnerships, IMP’s work with Weinberg Villages has centered on the philosophy that music holds the potential to energize, grow, and enrich spaces dedicated to the retired and/or elderly. “It’s been really special,” Latessa reflects, “I truly believe in the role that community-embedded musicians can have” in these distinct environments. 

The Ensemble-in-Residence model is perhaps one of the Iris Music Project’s most unique features. The structure, adapted from university and institute approaches to musical performance and instruction, is reformatted within IMP to fit retirement and healthcare settings. Under the model, professional musicians merge with residents, caretakers, and staff over extended periods of time. The aim isn’t to bring professionals to instruct inexperienced communities, Latessa saysit’s not about inserting one community into another, but rather joining communities, through mutual creative experimentation, to prompt deeper “connection,” understanding, and respect.

 

Foundational to IMP’s philosophy and projects is the idea that music functions as a “starting point,” a catalyst capable of inspiring creative expression in individuals who don’t necessarily “have a guarantee of what tomorrow will look like.” When it comes to death, Latessa considers, the US tends to avoid the topic, stigmatizing it to such an extent that American society hesitates to talk about the end of life. One of IMP’s overarching missions is to dissolve this psychological and verbal blockage in communities where death is often a part of daily life. 

The concept of “music connecting heaven and earth resonates throughout all aspects of the Iris Music Project,” states the nonprofit’s website. This idea, Latessa explains, is intended to dismantle the general, human assumption that heaven and earth are “far apart…we tend to think those places are so [distant], not connected.” And yet, Latessa observes, they’re inherently linked. 

IMP treats music as a bridge. Within every project, music functions as a means of bonding earth with heaven, life with death, and human with human. Ensembles-in-residence, group sing-alongs, public concertsall among IMP’s collaborative projectsare efforts to establish a sense of connection that strengthens communities and, Latessa expands, “hopefully make the journey less scary.”

 

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