Two local nonprofits have just closed out a successful concert series designed to lift some of the weight of isolation imposed on nursing home residents by the pandemic.

Chrissy Fowler, cofounder and secretary of Belfast Flying Shoes, said she was approached over the summer by Flic Shooter, director of Hospice Volunteers of Waldo County, about having outdoor concerts at The Commons at Tall Pines. Subsequently, the two organizations formed a partnership, with BFS sponsoring and organizing the concerts. BFS had previously done some movement and dance with residents of The Residence at Tall Pines, so Fowler was happy for a way to continue the relationship.

She said funding for the events came from BFS' outreach funds, and noted that in its first-ever fundraising campaign this year, the organization raised $15,000 for outreach programming. She said the group might look into having concerts on the local cable channel this winter, so they would be accessible to Tall Pines residents.

The nine concerts, which began in mid-August and ended in mid-October, have all had a folk flavor to them, said Mary Jo Abbott, activities director at The Commons, but were tailored to the residents, who range in age from their 50s to their 90s. Fowler said she made suggestions to the musicians about what music residents would be most likely to connect with.

Performers included Willy & Clayton Clemetson (Willy is also a former BFS board member), Jamie Oshima & Alisa Amador, John Pranio & Toki Oshima, the Gawler Sisters, and Jennifer Armstrong. Musical selections have run the gamut from traditional fiddle and banjo tunes to early rock & roll, old-time country music, and even some soul and gospel numbers. Musicians also took requests.

Fowler said residents would move around in their seats, tap their toes or fingers, even sing behind their masks, which, for her, was "one of the most beautiful things" about the concerts.

The events were staged with great care, she said. Hospice volunteers helped set up chairs outside 6 feet apart, and the performers were 20 feet away. Everyone present wore a mask, and those from outside Tall Pines were asked COVID-19 screening questions before they were admitted. After the first concert, there was a gap of three weeks before the second event, to make sure no one had contracted the virus. The first two concerts were for Commons residents only; after that, Fowler said, they added a second performance (with chairs being wiped down or replaced in between) for residents of The Residence.

She said the hospice volunteers and Tall Pines staff were "incredibly supportive" of the program, helping to make it run smoothly. "It was a great pilot program for Flying Shoes," she said, adding that she hopes to start the concerts again when warmer weather returns in the spring. In an email to The Republican Journal Oct. 22, she added that she hopes to

For her part, Abbott said the program had meant a lot to Commons residents, who enjoyed being outdoors and seeing others, even if from a distance. It was very important, she said, for these most isolated community members "to know they were thought of," and to have something to look forward to "expand our partnerships to include other older adult communities."

The concerts were stimulating for residents, and even for those who have difficulty speaking, "You can see that the music affects them in a positive way." She said some of the staff also came outside to listen and enjoy the music, and hospice volunteers dressed as fairies.

Abbott said the musicians were, "really able to draw out the audience," and praised Fowler's flexibility in scheduling the events according to the weather.

"It just was an uplifting experience for everyone."