NIH Community Orchestra Enlivens Elders

Photo By Misty Brown
For almost 10 years, NIH Community Orchestra has performed for local audiences.
By Misty Brown
WI Contributing Writer
Thursday, April 20, 2006

The jubilant residents of The Washington Home smiled, nodded their heads and played to the beat of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Community Orchestra recently. The majority of the multi-cultural senior citizens were in wheel chairs, but they danced in their seats, grooving with their fingers, tapping on frail knees. Of course, several were in a deep slumber until the finale of another clapping encore.

For the past decade, NIH Community Orchestra has been performing for senior citizens audiences. ìWe began in the fall of 1996 as a project to get NIH musicians together. Music doesnët exist just on paper or sound. It exists from the head through the heart. Music is on a very deep level on how it affects the brain, even though words might not get thorough. But, music does,î said Gary Daum, co-founder, principal conductor and music director.

The NIH Community Orchestra includes many scientists as well as other federal workers. Daum directed eighty musicians in a soul-rendering concert repertoire of classical and pop music from six centuries which encompassed many periods, styles and nationalities. This was no easy-listening music.

Looks of sheer delight permeated on the eldersí faces. 86-year-old Moselle Thomas, a retired registered nurse, summarized the sentiments of her residents. She said, ìWhen I was young I went to many concerts. Itís wonderful to know these professional musicians came here to play for us. Many of us canít attend a live concert. It brings a lot of joy to older people to listen to live music. I enjoyed it.î

76-year-old Rosetta Campbell, retired employee of the Government Printing Office, was equally delighted with the NIH Community Orchestra. She said, ìIndeed, it was a lovely and powerful performance of all my favorites. I felt blessed to hear this professional concert with so many in the Garden Room.î

The Washington Home was founded in 1888 and employs the most qualified, knowledgeable, long-term care professionals in the nation’s capital. Its primary goal is to focus on the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of each individual. Historically, the home has been a prominent provider of geriatric care.

“We have a diverse group of residents. It’s crucial they don’t feel isolated and abandoned. They don’t have to be shut out or have live entertainment excluded from their lives…We must bring it to them,” stated Barrington Scott, director of therapeutic activities and volunteer services.

Besides the NIH Community Orchestra, The Washington Home has numerous friends, patrons and supporters including former presidents and first ladies, dignitaries from foreign nations, prominent community members, students, and employees from local businesses who visit and entertain the residents.

NIH Community Orchestra’s Co-founder Charles “Bliss” Tolbert, a violinist, discussed the significance of the orchestra’s timeless contributions to the elderly. He said that using music to enliven Washington Home residents is important to the 110 members of the Orchestra.

“We understand their love and appreciation for music. Music promotes a cross-cultural understanding for those who perform and listen. This is our way to build the NIH community through the common language of music.”