What do the residents of La Porte City Nursing & Rehab Center have in common with a select group of freshmen, sophomores and juniors from Union High School? The answer is just one word that might surprise you- music. On Friday, May 31, members of the Union High School band performed for residents at the nursing home as part of a special effort designed to bring two distinctly different age groups together.
Union High School is one of just twelve schools throughout the country, the only one in Iowa, that is part of a pilot program called the Harmony Bridge Project. The program is the brainchild of Michael Levine, leader of the world-renown music ensemble, Dallas Brass. Levine’s goal for the program is to establish a connection between generations, with music serving as the bridge to bring them together. As part of the program, students have the opportunity to practice community service by way of performing at nursing homes and senior living facilities on a regular basis.
“We have hundreds of thousands of band kids all over America who know how to play instruments, and we have millions of people in nursing homes and hospitals and veterans homes that need to hear music. My dream is to build a bridge to bring those two worlds together,” Levine said.
Levine founded the Dallas Brass in 1983. The group has recorded six albums, with their most recent release, Classics, issued in September 2012. When the group is not on tour or performing, they are active in their communities, working with high school musicians in the form of workshops and clinics in schools.
The commitment to young musicians can be seen in the composition of the music, as the woodwind, brass and percussion students perform in small ensembles, playing arrangements of classic American folksongs created especially for the Harmony Bridge Project by the Dallas Brass. Union Band Director, Mike Bistline, noted the Union band spent about 60 minutes rehearsing before pulling select students from the large group to form three smaller groups.
“Each group has spent about 30-40 minutes of practice time to get a few pieces ready,” he stated.
From a performance aspect, the music composed for the Harmony Bridge Project allows for maximum flexibility.
“The music composed for this project is written in five parts, with the sixth part a percussion/drum set part. The pieces work to have an entire concert band play or for as little as six students,” he added.
Friday’s performance demonstrated that flexibility, as each of the three groups performed their pieces separately before coming together to conclude the program with a rousing rendition of “You’re a Grand Old Flag.” If the reaction to the students’ performance was any indication, the tapping of toes and clapping of hands has established a strong foundation for the harmony bridge to build upon in the future.