The MOSAIC Multicultural Seniors Choir is just one of the programs offered by MOSAIC in Metro Vancouver. The Choir represents a small sample of the diverse community in this region. Members have a shared love of music, enjoy learning English through songs, meeting new friends, and inviting other seniors to join their music community. The Choir is committed to empowering seniors through active community engagement.
MOSAIC’s Seniors Choir may not be a Grammy or Juno award-winning choir (yet!), but they prove that voices of the world can unify in song. The choir is featured in a CBC Radio 'Now or Never' special on Later Life Learners, which showcases how music can be a tool to bring immigrant seniors out of social isolation and improve English language skills through song (listen to full special here - time marker: 0:00 – 3:35).
In April 2019, Daisy Au, MOSAIC Seniors Coordinator, opened the doors for the inaugural meeting of a novel English class for immigrant seniors: Learning English through Music. In the weeks preceding it, the response to advertisement on the MOSAIC website and emails to current clients was swift and huge. The group began gathering on Tuesday afternoons in the community room at MOSAIC HQ and week by week grew into a multicultural choir of more than 25 regular members from five countries including Mainland China, Congo, India, Japan, and Taiwan. The choirs most recent additions include two choristers from the Philippines and Iran.
With a shared love of music, a desire to build community and social connections, and a drive to learn and practice English, the cultural mosaic of singers gathered faithfully every week to learn how to become a cohesive singing group despite the language barriers. Under the guidance of volunteer leader, Andrea Montgomery Di Marco, the choir began with repetitive, easy to learn English songs accompanied with actions. From the early days of learning to sing Row, Row, Row Your Boat to practicing Canoe Song, a traditional Canadian composition, to learning the French-Canadian folk song Alouette and pop song, I’m on the Top of the World, the choir has grown in confidence, in vocal strength, and in solidarity.
It is not uncommon to see choir members help each other follow the written music and translate instructions or pronunciation. Together, the choir unravels the lyrics and learns new words and expressions to give meaning to the words they are singing. There is camaraderie and care between the choir members with a shared understanding of the challenges of immigration and senior living. The rich diversity of cultures creates something new and different, providing truly intercultural engagement and exchange.
As Andrea says of the choir, “I watch most of them blossom so their confidence has been increasing. There are a number of individuals here who know no one outside of their immediate communities, so this program has been completely life changing for them. The joy and enthusiasm of this group is positively infectious. You cannot be around them and not enjoy yourself.”
The Seniors Choir is just one of the programs offered at MOSAIC for immigrant and refugee seniors to make new friends and become more connected with their community overall. Such engagement has shown to positively contribute to a seniors’ physical, social, spiritual, emotional, and mental well-being. “We are old and lack of motivation. Yet Andrea and Daisy from MOSAIC were like angels, organizing Senior English Choir and Seniors Club, creating a paradise for us. Taking part in these activities, we no longer feel self-pity and depressed,” says Ashley, a choir participant.
What is the impact that Covid has had on the choir? How has the choir adapted?
Even though COVID was keeping people from meeting physically, the Choir never stopped singing together. Since the onset of the pandemic, the Choir rapidly adapted to a virtual platform on zoom to allow seniors to continue connecting with each other. That connection during COVID is so important. As Ann, one of the choir members, says, “Boring pandemic life, empty nest life of elderly makes it even more boring. Now there is expectation in life, for I can sing, nevertheless, exercise, that pushes me to move on. It brings good mood, thank you very much!”
“It was very challenging at the beginning. Not to mention about zoom, many seniors are not comfortable with technology. Building their digital literacy took weeks to get by, some need assistance from their children. We do lose some seniors who do not have a digital device or internet. Many seniors have vision impairment. Connected through a small digital phone creates extra challenge,” describes Daisy. Further, Daisy says “Singing on zoom is tricky – synchronizing everyone to sing with the same timing is harder than we expect. All non-verbal clues become unclear on a virtual platform. It demands the enormous amount of patience from the instructor to lead a group of 15 seniors (we lose half of the group) and majority of them are beginner English learners.”
Technically, a virtual platform is not an ideal way to sing together but socially it is a great way to keep everyone connected. The virtual classroom is full of laughter, energy and fun. But the seniors miss the human touch – they wish they can go back to the physical room to hug each other. Despite some of the technical challenges with zoom, Juan Li, a choir participant, has this to say “Every week I look forward to joining the zoom session Daisy arranged for us, it is just like hanging out in a bazaar; the online class provides a platform for us seniors to meet and chat with one another, not to mention, learns lots of things”.
Brenda, a member of the choir also has this to say about the choir’s continuation during COVID “While staying home in isolation, we elderly people can still participate through this virtual platform – strengthen our physical and mental health and brings us pleasure. We do not feel alone or lonely. We would like to thank MOSAIC for coordinating these activities for the seniors”.
In terms of funding, the Choir did not receive any to start the Choir but the Choir laid a solid foundation to successfully obtain a new funding on the “Musical Ambassadors to Preventing Dementia Project” from the New Horizons for Seniors Program. “When people sing together, there is a human language connected from the heart that words can’t describe,” says Daisy who is so proud of the seniors and the work her team is doing to help seniors become more engaged in the community. The Seniors Choir was featured in the Globe and Mail (see full article here) when they performed for residents at Villa Cathay Care Home, a seniors’ care home. It a great way to bring about meaningful interactions for both the residents of the senior care home and the choir members themselves.
Photo from The Globe and Mail