From baby boomers to the World War II set, different generations are now coexisting as neighbors at many senior living centers.
Some like big band; some love rock ‘n’ roll, jazz or the symphony. And although they might no longer go clubbing or to concerts, they still want entertainment.
Tulsan Nancy Sies is on a mission to bring them a range of cultural entertainment just as diverse as the residents themselves.
Sies, once the director of the Tulsa Philharmonic, began the business of bringing entertainment to senior communities a little over 20 years ago. She says performers were hesitant at first regarding the unique venue — until she explained, "These are the same people who came to see you at the PAC. Now they just can’t drive to get there."
So, Sies brings top-quality performances to them.
Irene Monnet Brown, life enrichment coordinator at Oklahoma Methodist Manor, says Sies’ expertise in choosing artists the residents will enjoy has been a welcomed "blessing." "I have been familiar with Nancy since her days as executive director of the Tulsa Philharmonic," Brown says. "We both returned to Tulsa after living elsewhere for many years at about the same time, and I was delighted to hear about her business. I trust Nancy’s judgment implicitly, so when she tells me that a performer would be good for our audience, I know they will be."
To match every taste and genre, Sies books a variety of entertainers, from classical musicians and jazz singers to multicultural groups and speakers.
"Senior communities are made up of people with a variety of experiences and preferences," Sies says. "Some people would like classical concerts all the time; some would like popular music from the 1940s.
"As people born after World War II move into senior communities, they will want more current popular music. Last week, one of my (senior community activities directors) asked for a doo-wop band."
Sies’ philosophy is: Every audience deserves the best. "Most of the audiences we perform for have been exposed to fine concerts throughout their lives, and they expect the same level of artistry," she says.
Brown agrees that is the case for the majority of residents at Oklahoma Methodist Manor. "Many of our residents are long-time attendees of the symphony, opera and other top-performing venues, so they know and enjoy quality and professionalism. They are also a wonderfully warm and appreciative audience, so performers love to come here."
Performers put on the same program they would in any major venue, but the relaxed setting — going into the audience’s home — creates a less formal environment.
"Performers are more apt to talk directly to the audience, and seniors really like a little explanation about the music and, sometimes, the instrument itself," Sies says. "For example, one of the performers I work with plays pianoforte, which is a predecessor of today’s piano. It looks like a small grand, but it has a different sound. The audience is fascinated, and they sometimes ask if they can try to play it.
"After a performance, audience members will stay and talk to the performer. This is much easier in a senior community than it is in a regular concert hall," Seis says.
One other consideration that makes Sies’ job so crucial for senior communities is the fact that it might be the only activity some residents are able to enjoy, which further motivates her to bring the best in quality entertainment.
"We book professional performers, so the feedback is almost always really good," Sies says. "One of the programs we book is Ron Wheeler’s ‘Music Talks.’ Ron talks about classical music, and after showing some videos/DVDs, he discusses the music with the audience.
"Ron is the longtime music director of the Tulsa Youth Symphony, and almost invariably there is somebody there who had a child or grandchild in the Youth Symphony. In the case of jazz pianist Don Ryan, so many people have heard him over the years, and his performances bring back wonderful memories."
Knowing a performance could be a resident’s first or last adds extra significance for the artists, and it’s something Sies does not take for granted.
"It’s extremely satisfying to bring a couple of hours of joy and happiness to seniors who can’t go out to a concert venue," Sies says. "It’s quite an exciting thing to be able to do."