Student Designs and Runs A Music Program for Seniors

Carolynne Bull, Marketing and Communications Coordinator
“I’m not a typical teenager,” says Bijan Mirshahi, a Grade 12 student who listens to classical music and looks forward to spending his spare time volunteering at the Baycrest Health Sciences Centre in Toronto.
As one of the youth volunteers at Baycrest, Bijan received an email about the Baycrest Learning Institute Speaker Series (BLISS) project. The goal of the BLISS project was to develop a program for the residents on a topic that they are passionate about. One of the qualities Baycrest staff were looking for in a volunteer was a natural speaker who could not only facilitate but also develop their own program and run with it. Bijan’s proposed music program was one of the five chosen.

Working with the recreation program director at Baycrest, Bijan developed a music program called Muse on Music. “I started music classes at two-and-a-half years and piano lessons at six years of age,” stated Bijan, so a volunteer role at Baycrest that incorporated music was a natural fit.

After being trained by the Baycrest staff on how to communicate effectively with people who suffer from cognitive disorders and on what makes a good program for the residents at Baycrest, Bijan had his first Muse on Music session with a group of Baycrest residents in November. “I’m really passionate about music and so happy that I could bring that passion to Baycrest.”

Each Muse on Music session begins with Bijan introducing himself, the classical piece of music he’ll be playing and the goal of the session – which is for them to connect on an emotional level with the music. Bijan then plays the piece for the residents and when he’s finished, he welcomes the residents to talk about how they felt during different sections of the piece. He often finds that playing a passage or two over helps further the conversation.

Bijan has facilitated conversations on the similarities and differences between two contrasting classical pieces. One of his favourite sessions was one that had a Beethoven theme  – Beethoven being one of his favourite composers. “The experience has been so humbling. I have loved bringing something that I love to a place that I love,” says Bijan.

Being on the Baycrest Youth Council, Bijan plays chess with one resident and speaks Farsi to another who only speaks Farsi. “Baycrest is like a second home to me. I love it there,” admits Bijan. In his final year at HTS, Bijan has taken the initiative to prepare for the continuation of the Muse on Music program. With a great group of youth volunteers at Baycrest, he is confident that there will be someone who can take his place at the piano bench and further the program.

Bijan may not be a “typical teenager” but really, what does a typical teenager look like these days? For some, it’s hanging out with the elderly on the weekends, for others it’s being involved in the arts, sports or academics. The constant we know to be true at HTS is that a typical teenager has a strong desire to give back and help others. The HTS program is built on a foundation of service and last year saw 14,762 hours given to local and global communities from our students. It is no surprise that Bijan was recently awarded the Eglinton-Lawrence Outstanding Volunteer Award for his work at Baycrest. We are so proud of the work Bijan is doing and thankful for all the students like Bijan who are giving back and sharing their passions with a greater community.