Partnership Spotlight

NEC's Community Performances and Partnerships Program has a long-standing partnership with Susan S. Bailis Assisted Living, located just across the street from our campus. Check out our interview with Suzanne Aiken, Resident Life Director, about our partnership:

CPP: Let’s start with the basics: What is Susan S. Bailis Assisted Living?

SA: Susan Bailis Assisted Living is a residence for elderly individuals who may or may not need different services and assistance. In other words, if someone comes--and we have had residents who literally want to go to Symphony [Hall, right down thestreet] and they’re finding that they can’t get around their home as easily, or they’re not driving, they move to an assisted living so that they’re close to what they want to have. And then as their needs progress as an elder person, say, they’re having trouble getting their hair done, they’re having trouble in the morning dressing,... You know, their buttons get a little harder... washing, taking care of themselves. They can have as much or as little assistance here as they like. So we develop a plan according to their needs. For example, we have some individuals who need NO assistance whatsoever, but love going to the symphony every week, and going to
Whole Foods and walking everywhere. Driving might be their Achilles’ heel, but they still love the city and still want to stay here. And then as they progress and things get sometimes a little more challenging, we are able to provide a service with aids, with reminders, and with managers who provide entertainment, and care, and help them to keep their dignity. We also provide three square meals a day, so they no longer have to cook! Because most of them don’t feel like it.

CPP: When you say “entertainment,” and you speak about your residents liking to go to Symphony Hall, do they like to go to all of the different kinds of cultural outlets that are in this area?

SA: They really do, yes! There’s the Huntington Theatre, Boston Conservatory, Berklee jazz... You know, Boston is full of many, many cultural events. We have some foodies, restaurateur-type people who like to go to restaurants and enjoy different dishes. It’s all pretty much within walking distance! Or on the subway, right beside our building.

CPP: So obviously, there are lots of music appreciators, and are there musicians as well among the residents?

SA: We have a few musicians; you were mentioning Dot [one of the residents] earlier... Her husband was a jazz musician. We have a few individuals who used to play instruments. We had a jazz pianist here, who was an alternative jazz pianist who could play equally on the right hand and the left hand for all parts. And he loved being here and had a few concerts. So yeah, we have music enthusiasts, there’s one artist - that’s her artwork going down the hall from the entrance to the activity area. We have a lot of people interested in culture. But sometimes very strong: one person loves jazz, the other people can’t stand it. Some people love classical, and then there are others who just like the old standards. It’s an interesting mix.

CPP: They have strong opinions.

SA: Very strong.

CPP: That’s good! And so you were saying they are always hungry for more music?

SA: Yes! Jazz, classical...I have had one resident who can’t get enough violin... We had an event the other day, there was a harpist from Boston Conservatory. It was a non-resident function, but all the residents wandered in and sat down to listen to the harpist. They loved it. There’s an enthusiasm for all kinds of music. The harp was extravagant, golden, with roses all up and down it, and that drew comments too. We have a very high-functioning, very intelligent crowd: not only do they want to hear about the music - they come and they listen to the story of the student, the history of music. They love music history, and they love to be educated here.

CPP: And so most of the time that’s best if NEC students will do equal parts performing and speaking?

SA: Mostly performing!...and then, hang around for speaking. I would say three-quarters performance and one-quarter interaction. They love to know who you are, and where you’re headed or where you’ve been... It really enhances the experience.

CPP: How did this partnership get started between Susan Bailis Assisted Living and NEC CPP?

SA: Honestly, I think that you all might have approached us. Because we’re so much of a stone’s throw, it must have been a natural progression. I’m not sure of the history. But I know that when I heard about it, I tried to find all the contacts I could to bring it up a little notch, because it’s fabulous.

CPP: And so it’s been going on for quite a number of years, right?

SA: I think it’s been going on for at least as long as the [CPP] Program’s been going on...

CPP: Probably about twelve years!

SA: Yeah, and we’ve been in existence for eight years, so it wouldn’t surprise me if we were one of the first organizations approached, especially since you can walk things over here, which is really wonderful.

CPP: Have there been some outstanding performers in recent memory from NEC?

SA: One thing that’s super popular is the pianists - do you know Young Gyo Lee? Young Gyo now comes every Saturday! They love when she performs... Oh golly, there was another pianist last year, Christopher Lim, yes! And we have one resident who weeps when violinists play here. I mean I’ll take anybody, all of you guys. I love all music! But when I see a resident really responding to a particular performance, it’s good for me to be able to say “Gee, could you get another violin group?” It was a singular violinist... Shih-Kai [Lin]. And this one resident, when she said she was crying, I immediately contacted NEC again, and we were able to get some more violins. I know that some people are excited that there’s going to be some flutists: a flute duo and a quartet possibly that they’re working on, and I know our residents are very excited about that.

CPP: Good!

SA: Yeah. But the violin performances, and the piano performances are super memorable here. They’re always asking for more.

CPP: And what about you? What is your favorite part about the partnership and the performances?

SA: The fact that you all are so willing to come over here, and the idea or fact that I can not only bring culture and music to them, not just because they demand it, but because I see the effect it has on them, how much they love it. And the wonderful spirit of interaction that the students have with these residents. The hidden gem to all this is that a lot of students your age (I have kids your age)...I have always observed that when they come to this residence, there’s a perception’s probably downright scary. It’s a frightening prospect - you don’t know what you’re going to encounter. Are there going to be people with dementia? Are they going to be scary? And I don’t blame anybody because it’s difficult sometimes to see people age. But when the students come here and start interacting and start realizing that someone played with the jazz greats, and that we had a jazz phenom here, or a classical player or an artist in residence... that these individuals had lives and that they were so interesting. I love seeing that connection, and the students end up coming to me and thanking me for being able to perform and they ask to come back. That’s really cool that I can provide that kind of joy to the resident and to the student - it makes me happy as the director. And the fact that Tanya and everybody over there [at CPP] rocks! Everybody’s always on the ball, always willing to come over. And it’s a neat thing for me, so... It makes my job a joy! Because I can give them more! I have a budget. So, entertainment-wise also, I can only give a fixed amount... and I mix it up. There’s so little I can do in the classical and the other realms...because you’re worth paying for! But, we don’t have that kind of budget. So just to have this unlimited access to culture is just a joy.

CPP: That’s great! Do you have any other reflections or thoughts about the impact of the program?

SA: It’s a mood-lifter. It’s like after you have done or seen an amazing performance, all the pistons that fire off in people, and the animation that it creates? There’s that extra sense of joy for the day, and I see that here. And that’s an excellent thing. If I come in the next day and everyone’s talking about it, I know that I’ve done something, or that you’ve done something right but that I’m able to help with that. That’s about it! That’s what it’s all about, is the people aspect.

CPP: Wonderful.

SA: And great music. I can’t tell you one bad performance we’ve had here. At all. The funny part is that we have some people who don’t even appreciate classical, or even jazz. It’s hysterical because they’ll walk out. And this is a challenge for students, too - I had one resident who walked out of the most gorgeous performance. We had this beautiful spa and I arranged it and this gorgeous harpist was there with her beautiful harp...[laughs] And the lady walked out of the room and went, “This is a yawn-fest!” Now, that’s not the general consensus, but it’s also training ground for patience, because you must sit and be listening and hearing many things as you play ... To appreciate the fact that the majority of people are enjoying it, and that somewhere underneath it, I think she was enjoying it.

CPP: It can be hard to try to win everyone over.

SA: And you have to have a sense of humor sometimes about it, because some people are resistant to different kinds of music - they don’t get it. But this is a person who loves a singalong! If you could do a harp singalong, she’d be fine. [laughs]

CPP: Maybe we should!

SA: It’s amazing what music evokes. It brings people to life that you wouldn’t ordinarily see much out of. But if you can tap into the music that they liked, or that they listened to as a child,...You’ve seen it! It’s profound. If they can sing the words, they’ll do it.