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Three Years In, Student Musician-in-Residence Program Enriching Lives

December 17, 2019

Read an Open Letter from Music Student to Her “Roommates” at Oakcrossing Retirement Living.

Western University students playing the piano and singing with Oakcrossing Retirement residents

Residents and Western University music students live together in harmony.                  Above: Jeannette Corcoran and Hailey Witt sing along to the music played by Eileen Heath and Brian Cho.

How an innovative intergenerational music program brings joy to students and residents at Oakcrossing Retirement Living

Two young people in London have gained more than 100 new grandparents. “We’re spoiled rotten,”says Western University student, Hailey Witt. “No, we’re the lucky ones,”insists Oakcrossing resident, Eileen Heath.

This interesting duo both live at Oakcrossing Retirement Living at 1238 Oakcrossing Rd. in London, Ontario. Witt and fellow student Brian Cho, are both in their first year of Western University’s Master’s Music Degree Program. Their musical talent and natural friendliness help make relationships sing through a successful program at Oakcrossing that trades student accommodations for quality time with residents.

“The program at Oakcrossing has far surpassed our expectations,” says Heather Gingerich. She and her husband, Brent, are owners and operators of peopleCare Communities, with several seniors’ homes in southwestern Ontario.

Resident Jeannette Corcoran applauds the initiative. “The student music program is what persuaded me to move out of my home and into Oakcrossing. I sang in choirs and was a soloist at one time. Good music is everything to me. It’s nice to hear Hailey sing – she’s wonderful.”

Though classically trained, the students are flexible and perform music of all genres and eras. “Music brings residents back to their youth, when Elvis was king and girls wore poodle skirts,” says Gingerich.

When Cho recalls the day he arrived for his interview as a potential student resident.“I was so nervous,” he admits. When asked to put on an impromptu concert for the lunch crowd he gladly rose to the challenge and even took requests. “When the residents applauded, I realized this interaction is what it’s all about.”

Shortly after moving in, Cho met resident Eileen Heath. “Brian (Cho) and I have been friends from the beginning,” she says. “I love music and play piano and accordion by ear. I love to hear people sing.” Together they have helped each other grow their musical repertoire and learn to love the lighter side of music. “I think the biggest thing I’ve learned here is playing is fun,” says Cho. “It doesn’t have to be so serious.”

Witt learned of the Oakcrossing residency opportunity when Western University distributed a flyer. “I thought this would be perfect. No stress about living arrangements and I can practice my music. I’m delighted to be an honorary granddaughter to so many,” she smiles. “It’s great to have family meals together. I remember my Oakcrossing debut clearly, singing happy birthday to a resident at dinner.”

Cho, who enjoys walking around Oakcrossing, even filled in as an audio/visual technician when the movie screen malfunctioned. “It’s like what I do with my own grandma at her home,” he chuckles.

“Intergenerational research indicates there are great benefits in having young people interact with seniors,” Gingerich notes. “I believe our music program helps renew residents’ vibrancy and interest. They listen to or sing along with live music and then have opportunity to discuss it afterward.” Emily Skelly, Oakcrossing Director of Lifestyle and Leisure, is impressed with the students’ excitement. “Every idea I’ve pitched, they’ve said, ‘Fantastic!’ We’re starting a residents’ choir so we can highlight the talent here. We will be singing carols at Christmas time and intend to put on a concert. The list of musical ideas goes on and on.”

And the togetherness doesn’t just stop at music.“We’re going to show Brian how to roast a turkey,” says Heath, laughing at the young man’s doubtful expression. “We’re cooking thanksgiving dinner together – not everyone has grandchildren nearby, so it’s nice that our students are with us.”

“We never go hungry,” jokes Witt. “I was blown away when I had my first multi-course meal.” Her personal favourite is shepherd’s pie, while Cho loves the maple-glazed salmon.

“When we’re selecting students to live here, we bear in mind it’s not just what they can do for us, it’s what we can do for them,”states Gingerich. “Oakcrossing seniors and staff are genuinely interested in the young people’s studies and are proud of their accomplishments. “The support everyone receives from each other is heart-warming.”

Read more:

Group of Western University Music Students to Live in Retirement Home

Western University Students Live Free in Retirement Home Under New Program

New Seniors Home Aims to Score Music Students

For more information: Sheena Campbell, Director, Strategic Communications, 519-807-2509,

The above article was written by Karen Paton-Evans.