Music on Wheels: New program aims to help Nevada County seniors one note at a time |

Music on Wheels: New program aims to help Nevada County seniors one note at a time

Ginny Hummel applauds at the end of a piece during a performance of Music on Wheels at Atria Senior Living on Sept. 5. The performance was part of new InConcert Sierra program to provide classical music to seniors in assisted living facilities.
Submitted photo by Craig Silberman

Residents at Atria Senior Living and Hilltop Commons were treated to an intimate concert at their respective facilities on Sept. 5, as part of InConcert Sierra’s new Music on Wheels program.

Music on Wheels aims to bring live classical music to those Nevada County residents whose physical limitations prevent their attendance at regular performances.

Only a few notes into Cesar Cui’s “Berceuse and Badinage,” feet began to sway to the rhythm as the warm timbre of piano, layered with the flute and violin swept over the crowd. Facial expressions noticeably relaxed.

“The program is motivated in large part by the mounting scientific evidence on the positive impact of music on the health and wellbeing of aging persons, including those diagnosed with dementia and in post-stroke recovery,” said Rafael Diaz, the InConcert Sierra board member who is spearheading this new program.

The shows featured InConcert Sierra Artistic Director Ken Hardin on piano, concertmaster Richard Altenbach on violin and Kirsti Powell on flute. Inspired by the “Meals on Wheels” program that brings food to those in need, this new project aims to bring live classical music to those who need it the most, particularly the elderly whose physical limitations may prevent them from attending concerts. 

Scientific studies have documented multiple positive effects of listening to music, such as reduction of blood pressure, boosts in immune functions, pain relief, improved physical performance, facilitation of sleep, and recovery of physical, cognitive and linguistic functions after strokes, said Diaz.

As the hauntingly beautiful “Meditation” by Jules Massenet was performed at Hilltop Commons, the effect was evident. Sitting on his walker near the front, wearing a black Raiders t-shirt, resident Ed Hayden had his eyes closed and head down while swaying to the music, clearly moved by the stirring piece.

“This is beautiful,” Hayden said after the concert. “Best music I ever heard. I’ve never heard music like that in my life.”

About 100 people watched the performances at Atria and Hilltop Commons, 90 of which were residents. Staff and visiting family members also sat in. Through Music on Wheels, InConcert Sierra plans to present three to four such performances a year at senior living facilities. The goal is to bring the same high quality music by professional artists who grace the InConcert stage to the residents in more intimate “house concerts.”

“The music performed was so magnificently beautiful, many of our seniors were moved to tears of awe and delight,” said Hilltop Commons Marketing Director Sue Hudson. “We have a lot of great entertainment at Hilltop Commons, but this ensemble was amazingly different. The residents really enjoyed being immersed into the magical sounds that filled the room.”

Since the concerts, Hardin and his wife, InConcert Sierra Executive Director Julie Hardin, have seen firsthand the positive effect the music has had at Atria. They frequently visit Ken’s father there and noticed one woman they were familiar with has begun playing the piano more often. Other residents continue to approach him and thank him for the beautiful music, he said.

At Hilltop Commons, Hudson mentioned that after the concert, many residents said it brought back wonderful memories and for some this type of music was a brand new experience.

“Beautiful music is an integral part of the most precious and significant memories I hold,” Diaz said. “Thus, I have not been surprised by the findings of recent scientific research that documents the enormous benefits of music to health and wellbeing, particularly among the elderly. Such a gift begs to be shared.”

Along with more performances at the facilities, Music on Wheels also plans to include transportation for home-bound seniors to the organization’s Third Sunday Series concerts in the near future. For more information about this program or InConcert Sierra, visit or call 530-273-3990.

Brett Bentley is Associate Director of InConcert Sierra. She is also the former features/entertainment editor at The Union.

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