Tri-M performs at senior home


Inside of the Arbors at Rancho Peñasquitos senior living center, residents gathered in the Christmas-decorated lobby, Dec. 3.

The soft chitter-chatter calmed and the dozen seniors took a seat when 11 students, each carrying a string instrument, walked in.

These students make up the orchestral section of Tri-M, a national honor society in which students use their musical talents during service opportunities.

With approximately 6,200 participating chapters, Westview’s Tri-M club is composed of about 50 band, orchestra and choir students. Together, the club members devote their time to visiting senior homes such as Arbors and The Remington.

The three club presidents—Neil Slavick (11) leading band, Danielle Smith (12) leading orchestra, and Alexis Olaes (12) leading choir—each hold the responsibility of organizing and assigning pieces to the musicians in their sections.

In order to perform a piece at an event, members typically have to send a video of themselves playing it to one of the three presidents. Subsequently, either Slavick, Smith, or Olaes watch the clip and make an executive decision concerning whether or not they believe the musician is prepared enough to play the piece. However, if the Tri-M member is a part of the wind ensemble or first-chair of orchestra (the highest tier of their respective arts), they are exempted from doing this task.

“We do this because we want to make sure that everything that gets played is up to the quality and standards of what we want our program to be represented as,” Slavick said. “

On days like Dec. 3, the Tri-M club members begin by assembling with their performance groups outside of the senior home, playing their last run-throughs and shaking the jitters out.

“Is any group ready?” Slavick called out after a few minutes.

A few voices jokingly returned a “no,” but Slavick opened the front door, and the Tri-M orchestra walked in, where they were greeted by the warm smiles of a dozen seniors.

On Smith’s count, the violins and violas and cellos began playing different notes, all blending and harmonizing together to perform three holiday songs: “Sleigh Ride”, “Carol of the Bells”, and “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”

As the music crescendoed and decrescendoed, more and more seniors began to emerge from their rooms, coming down to the lobby to take a look at where the sound was coming from.

Others watched from the balcony upstairs, and some even pulled out electronic devices to record the performance; many were tapping their toes to the beat and mouthing the lyrics to the holiday songs.

When one senior by the name of Frank walked into the lobby, he immediately took a seat in the back row, and immersed himself in the music.

“I never played music when I was younger, but I absolutely love it,” he said. “This was personally my first time seeing [Tri-M] perform, and let me tell you that anyone who has taken their time to come here as entertainment has been amazing.”

For Slavick, providing this small sense of pleasure makes being a part of the club that much better.

“Just seeing how happy you can make the seniors makes it worth it,” Slavick said. “It’s such a great feeling when people walk by and they stop for a second or do a double take because they realize there’s live music playing, which doesn’t happen that often. I love seeing people’s faces light up and the joy [the music] brings.”

Each time the three different sections of Tri-M had a small break to transition from one group to the next, phrases like “please tell me you aren’t done just yet,” or “incredible” would slip out of the mouths of the growing number of seniors watching their performance.

“Just giving up an hour of our day to play music for them really makes a difference because the majority of the seniors stay [in the home] for the most part, and they don’t really get to go out or see people come to them except maybe their family members,” Slavick said. “So seeing people of the community makes them happy, which in turn makes me happy.”

Though Tri-M only stayed at Arbors for a short duration of time, by the many smiles left after the performance, it was clear to the members that sometimes, music can speak louder than words.

Edit: The Arbors at Rancho Penasquitos is now called Atria Rancho Penasquitos.