Back to top
News, Events, Awards & Achievements

Bringing generations together through music

Bringing generations together through music

Recently students from MIC's Musical Pen Pals program spoke with the Chicago Tribune about their experiences and the power of music to unite people of different generations.

The Musical Pen Pals program, part of MIC's Music As Service initiative, developed in response to the isolation caused by the COVID pandemic. It combined the joys of music with the benefits of sustained connectivity to address an unprecedented public health emergency and tapped young music students to reach older adults through the simple pleasures of music and conversation using videoconferencing, FaceTime or simple phone calls.

From February-May 2021, Music Institute of Chicago paired 25 music students, age 6 to 18, with seniors and every other week, the pairs met to share music and conversation. Victor Ribadeneyra, MIC Director of Community Engagement explained the MIC Music as Service initiative to the ChicagoTribune saying, "The goal is to serve anyone who doesn’t have access to music. That means playing music for seniors who are isolated, at soup kitchens, and at homeless shelters, among other locations. The older adults were selected through a group called Senior Connections, which is part of Chicago Methodist Senior Services. Then we got a grant from the RRF Foundation for Aging that allowed us to expand the program.”


The grant made it possible for MIC to partner with five social service agencies including: Highland Park Senior Center, North Shore Senior Center in Northfield, Senior Connections in Evanston, The Village Chicago in Lincoln Park and Westminster Place in Evanston. The Highland Park Community Foundation also provided funding for the program.

Music Institute students who participated attended a training session prior to the virtual visits and Generation United worked with MIC staff and students training them on how to best interact with people over the age of 65. Meetings typically included both conversation and music.

Anli Chen, mother of six-year-old participant Andrew Ji told the Tribune, “I was very excited about this concept.”  Her son was paired with 78-year-old JoAnn Robson. “I had no idea where this was going, but I think it’s a wonderful thing to connect with seniors virtually while everyone is dealing with their challenges in a very difficult time,” Chen said. She noted that the program benefitted her sons because “their music journey now has more meaning.”

Evanstonian resident Robson said, “I’ve become really close to this family. This past summer they came up and we had a picnic at a park in Evanston.” Robson praised the Pen Pal program explaining that connecting with young people has meant a lot and, saying, “I’ve felt that people of different ages are kind of segregated in our country. It’s a thrill to have this chance to be with these beautiful young people. It gives me hope for the future.”


Winnetka resident and Musical Pen Pal participant Zalman Usiskin told the Tribune that he, "wanted to participate in Musical Pen Pals because his children studied at the Music Institute." Usiskin's daughter is a professional cellist. Usiskin met with MIC pianist Isabel Smith, age 14, and the two shared both music and conversation. Smith told the Tribune, “I really like talking with him and learning about his life. Before I didn’t know that there was an older community at the Music Institute.”


Ribadeneyra reported that following the program they used an intergenerational survey called the Rosencranz Aging Semantic Differential to assess the results of the program. They learned that 71% of the seniors had increased their interaction frequency with youth; 44% of them showed an increase in music listening via technology; and 36% spent more time listening to music. In terms of the youth in the program, 60% showed a more positive perception of older adults.


Ribadeneyra, who has created and managed numerous community events since joining the Music Institute in 2017, commented on the program’s success: “It has been rewarding to see the positive difference these calls have made in the lives of both our students and their older adult partners. The data coupled with fact that many participants are maintaining their new friendships completely on their own is a testament to the wonderful relationships they have built through this project. These successful friendships are inspired by a shared passion for music, suggesting that music can and does serve as an important conduit for intergenerational dialogue.”


If you have questions about MIC's Music as Service initiatives or would like to get involved, please contact Victor Ribadeneyra.