Even before COVID-19, musician and avid volunteer LeRae Haynes used music to connect with people in Williams Lake.
From teaching ukulele at a drop-in music program with elders at the Cariboo Friendship Centre, to her choir at the Seniors Village where members range in age from 86 to 96, to engaging with seniors who have dementia and even hosting a sing along at Cariboo Place, Haynes has taken her senior pupils on a regular stroll down memory lane with music.
“What I’ve learned in the last two years is that (seniors) would much rather sing with you than be sung to. They like the connection,” said Haynes, who is self-isolating due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“There’s something about music that touches you in a way that nothing else does. It’s like when you smell something and you remember what it was like in Grade 7, when you used to go out in the playground with your friends. Music is like that too. You can even hear a part of a tune and all of a sudden you’re 16 or you’re 21 or dancing with your friends or your husband or you have your first baby — music touches people like that.”
Over that time Haynes has developed a repertoire of close to 200 songs from the 1920s, 30s, and 40s and said she has found those songs in that era really touch people she works with.
“And depending on what their background in music is, they’re going to like simple folk songs or maybe they’re going to like Big Band songs from the 40s, she said. “What they like is reflective of who they are and where they’ve come from.”
As she has such a close relationship with many of the seniors she works with, Haynes feels the impact of social isolation for herself and them, deeply.
“I miss them terribly. But I know the staff at the facilities are taking great care to isolate them (from the coronavirus),” Haynes said, noting the social isolation is hard.
When local facilities started getting closed to the public to protect those inside, Haynes wrote letters to many of her senior friends at the Seniors Village, and included a picture of herself so they would know it was her writing. She received many phone calls in return and hopes she can see them all again soon.
The last time Haynes was separated from her choir at length was the 2017 wildfires.
“In my mind, I go back and forth between this (experience with the coronavirus) and evacuation. At least this time we can go outside because there’s no smoke, but the wildfires were more of a local emergency, not global like this. We can’t just escape from this, and there is such a strong feeling of isolation.”
To help cope with that feeling, she and her partner Evan Jensen started singing at home everyday, recording it and posting to Facebook.
After receiving such a positive response from the posts, the two saw social media as a chance to continue to use music to connect with friends.
“It makes us happy to play music everyday and when we saw the response to the posts we realized this was an opportunity to brighten other people’s lives too.”
Haynes said she’s not sure if all her friends at the village can see her posts, but she looks forward to the day she can see them again person and continue to make music.