Folsom Lake Community Concert Association – Outreach to Seniors

We asked our amazing harpist Judy Phillips to tell us : when she started to play the harp, how she decides what to play and what she experiences at her outreach performances.


Judy Phillips at Hillcrest Care

FLCCA: How did you begin playing the harp and also playing for senior facilities conducting sing-alongs with their residents?

I discovered the harp at 19 when I was a music education student at Humboldt State. Since the moment I set my fingers to the first harp I played, I recognized that my personality was one that vibrated to the sound and feel of its strings. The harp stimulates the inner harmonic of my being. The instrument resonates within me in ways I cannot explain.

In 2004, I took a part-time job with Eureka Adult Education to bring educational programs to seniors in rest homes and assisted living facilities. That is when I began to lead sing-alongs. We all laughed and sang the fun old songs we enjoyed and the seniors loved it. When my husband and I moved to the Sacramento area six years ago, FLCCA invited me to share my harp in their outreach program at schools and senior facilities.

I discovered the harp at 19. I was a piano student in college and there was a harp in one of the practice rooms. Nobody played and nobody taught it at the time. But the moment I touched the strings, I recharge emotionally by playing my harp alone late at night. At such times, I play for me.

I recharge emotionally by playing my harp alone late at night. At such times, I play for me.

Since the moment I first set my fingers to the first harp I ever played, I recognized that my personality was one that vibrated to the rhythm of its strings. The harp stimulates the inner harmonic of my being. Its melodies resonate within me in ways I cannot explain. Nor can it be put into words. It is simply something I feel. So though my harp represents, in a sense, my “work,” its music is also the most self-nurturing component of my life. I think that is one of the reasons I feel such empathy with the patients I play for. Not sympathy, but an empathic connection of spirit that, for however long I have with them, makes me truly one in some mysterious way with them. The music creates a bond . I feel sure the patients feel it too.

FLCCA: How do you select the facilities that you visit and where do you play?

I will play anywhere that I can be of help to bring music into people’s lives. Sometimes FLCCA selects the facilities. Their current outreach director is an ombudsman for El Dorado County and he has found a number of places for me to share my music. The wife of a hospice client of mine referred me to a couple of facilities. Somehow the word spreads about what I do. The activity director at one facility may start working at another and they might bring me in to the new one. People talk and share how much the music has touched them.

FLCCA: How do you prepare for your visits and what aids do you use?

I have song sheets of “oldies” that I pass out to the residents. The songs are ones they grew up with and I often hear them humming or singing before I even get all the sheets passed out. People love the music of their youth – it makes them happy to sing those songs again. At Christmas, I bring out another set of songs. Sometimes, for a holiday, I will make a single sheet of songs for people to keep after I leave. I have collected a number of rhythm instruments over the years and occasionally take bongo drums, maracas and tambourines so the people can participate in making music and rhythm with me. Their faces light up when I hand them one of the instruments. At Christmas, I take bells for everyone and we make a “joyful noise!” They have so much fun! When I handed a bongo drum to a resident at a memory care unit, he said, “I don’t know what to do with this.” But by the end of the first song, he was tapping out riffs to beat the band. It was great.

FLCCA: What do you hope to accomplish when you visit with seniors?

I want everyone to have a good time. When I arrive at a facility for the first time and begin to set up my harp, I usually face a quiet and passive audience. I know they are expecting a concert. But that is the last thing on my mind. I want audience participation. My goal is for people to sing and clap and laugh – and most of all, to remember. It is amazing to hear the stories and memories the songs bring to mind. I might tell the history of some of the songs, for eg., that “this one was made famous by Louis Armstrong.” Or that “White Christmas was written on a hot and sultry day in Hollywood.” We all love trivia and it makes the songs more interesting. The goal is to get people clapping and laughing and telling stories as the music stimulates memories of happy times. One resident said, “you’re nuttier than a fruitcake!” That pleased me. I hadn’t had a single response from him until that moment. So my antics and silliness succeeded in bringing him out of his shell. Just last week a man came up after one of my programs at an assisted living facility. He said, “I really enjoyed that.” His wife then whispered to me, ” He never says anything about anything! So I know he enjoyed this!” At a memory care unit I go to twice a month, a woman was brought out in a wheel chair each time. She just sat, silent and looking glum, week after week. Finally, one day after a particular song, she blurted out in a loud voice, “we used to sing that in the car.” The activity director and I stared at one another in astonishment. Then I quickly said, “Let’s sing it again!” The previously silent woman sang with us from then on – with a smile! Music is so powerful!

FLCCA: What do you actually do?

I don’t go in as a performer. My goal is always to engage the listeners with me – engage them in the music, not in what I am doing. I don’t want them just listening to me sing or play my harp, but to tap their feet and sing along. I am not the entertainment. The people are part of the entertainment. So when I stand in front of a room of seniors, I am not there as a performer but to get them involved. I start by singing and clapping and telling stories – whatever it takes to get them going with me. I may accompany my singing with the harp, but not always. On one occasion, the activity director and I started dancing to a peppy chorus. And when the hour is done, and one of the seniors exclaims, “This is fun!” then I know I’ve succeeded in what I set out to do.

FLCCA: What challenges come up in your visits?

Standing in front of a room of silent seniors who are expecting a performance can be a challenge. They think they have gathered to hear me play the harp for an hour. When I tell them that they are going to be part of the program, they will often say that they can’t sing or even that they don’t want to sing. But when they find out that the songs are all ones that they know, they quickly become eager participators.

Then afterwards, the second challenge is trying to get my song sheets back! Everyone wants to keep the song sheets! They bring back such wonderful memories. Having the words written down is a treasure to them. They want to hang onto them. I recently made a third set of song sheets including some songs from the 60s. It is sad to say, but the residents at the assisted living and memory care facilities are no longer all in their 80s and 90s. Many are in their 70s and some in their 60s. These younger people have a different set of song memories than the older generation. Now I have to intersperse The Beatles along with Elvis and WW II songs.

FLCCA: What other playing do you do with your harp besides playing for seniors?

I do the usual musician type things – playing at galleries and events, funerals, weddings and teaching. I played for 38 years with the Humboldt Symphony. But mainly I now play as a therapeutic harpist in two local hospitals as a Certified Music Practitioner. I provide therapeutic harp music at patient bedsides. I put my harp on wheels and I wheel it right into the patient rooms and offer to play for them to help them relax. Often I find myself slipping quietly out of a room after they have fallen asleep. Even in this setting, some of the festive sing-along participation can take over a visit. Especially if the patient is older and a bit confused. I have had patients begin to sing along with some oldies or hymns and then say, “I can’t believe I am in a hospital bed singing!” Occasionally, I will encounter a patient in the hospital who recognizes me from one of my sing-alongs. They are so happy to see a familiar face and it is a privilege to be able to bring music to them in the hospital.

Flutist, Joyce Burrill and Harpist, Judy Phillips enter-tain residents of Creekside Oaks for the Holidays


December 20, 2012 – Windy Strings – Flutist, Joyce Burrill and Harpist, Judy Phillips played a Holiday Concert for the senior residents at Creekside Oaks in Folsom. Approximately 20 residents enjoyed the 1 hour performance. Old favorites like “I Wish You a Merry Christmas” brought smiles to the faces of the residents. A good time was had by all. The mission of the FLCCA outreach program is to develop, administer, and promote music programs for youth and seniors as a volunteer non-profit association “I am proud to report that FLCCA has found a wonderful home at Cordova Meadows Elementary School in Rancho Cordova for all the refurbished musical instruments! They will be well taken care of and appreciated by students who otherwise would never be able to learn to play a clarinet, violin, trumpet, guitar, etc. I am very pleased and excited to report to our subscribers who donated instruments as well as those of you who donated funds to help us refurbish the instruments that these Students and their Principal Joseph Piazza and Music Teacher, Wynne Skow are grateful and humbled by your kindness. The gift of learning to play a musical instrument has been shown to increase students’ math and science skills.” – Dianne Burnett

December 1, 2012 – Pianist, David Graulich brought joy to the faces of residents at Casa Coloma Residential Complex in Rancho Cordova! Mr. Graulich passed out music books so the residents could sing along to the music. Old favorites like “You Are My Sunshine” were included for this 1 hour performance.

Judy performing at Elite Elder Care in El Dorado Hills

Our Outreach program started out slowly in January but with the infusion of financial help from you our patrons , sponsors and recently a grant from the El Dorado County Arts Council , April and May have exploded with music to our senior community.

Judy Phillips our professional harpist who engages her audience with beautiful old tunes, a sing along and audience participation has performed twice at gathering of seniors from several small assisted living facilities at the Elite Elder Care in El Dorado Hills.

Below is a picture of Judy performing at Elite Elder Care in El Dorado Hills in January 2015


Judy’s performances are so popular that she has become a regular at several senior facilities.

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