Kaiya Brooks, a 15-year-old 10th grader at Crystal Spring Uplands School in Hillsborough, has started a music program performing virtual piano concerts at assisted living centers to help the elderly during the pandemic.
Brooks began virtually performing in the summer for local assisted living centers in the Bay Area and now performs all over the country, bringing her jazz piano skills to senior citizens isolated because of COVID-19 restrictions. She has held more than 100 virtual concerts for people in 25 states and 35 cities since the pandemic began via Zoom and Skype. She started performing because she enjoyed playing the piano and had previously volunteered at assisted living centers. There is no official name yet for her program, but she calls it Music for the Elderly.
“It’s been a really great experience for me, I’ve had some really cool connections with some of the elderly residents in the different assisted living homes, and I’ve met some really good musicians as well that I was able to play with,” Brooks said.
Most of her performances are on Fridays and the early morning on weekends when she doesn’t have school. She plans to continue the program while COVID-19 restrictions are in place, and once it ends, she wants to reach out to assisted living homes in the area to continue playing in person. Her goal is to do more live performances in assisted living homes and senior citizen centers once COVID-19 ends. Her favorite part of performing is connecting with people and seeing them smile after she plays a song they recognize.
“It’s really nice to be able to interact with them a little bit more. It’s really touching when they recognize one of the songs, and I can see that I had a positive impact on their day,” Brooks said.
When she plays, employees at the assisted living homes put her performance on TV or walk around the building with an iPad or other device to show the performance. She has gotten lots of praise and appreciation from those watching her performances and meeting someone younger. Although she sometimes feels nervous initially before performing, the nervousness goes away when she begins playing. She also answers questions at the end of her performance to get to know the audience and to tell them more about herself.
“A lot of them were surprised that I could talk to them. They didn’t realize that I was live. So that was pretty cool to see their reaction,” Brooks said.
One of her regular performances occurs in Kapolei, Hawaii, at the ‘Ilima at Leihano senior living community. Her weekly performances began in the summer, and she has gotten to know the residents in the months since. Her jazz performances have helped her form a connection with the people living there.
“I know their names, they know my name, and I update them on a few new songs I’ve learned. It’s been a great weekly thing I’ve looked forward to,” Brooks.
Ethel Caguiat, the wellness director of ‘Ilima at Leihano, said Brooks’ performances through Zoom have helped engage the residents and let them have a new experience during difficult times. The residents have not been able to leave the community during COVID-19 restrictions. However, the performances and Brooks getting to know the residents has helped them adapt to being inside all the time.
“She has really talked with our residents and made it fun for them,” said Caguiat.
Brooks began performing in the summer after planning and preparing. Once she started school, she worked with the community engagement director at her school and convinced some school musicians to perform with her. Her biggest challenges in setting up the program were scheduling and organizing performances and figuring out how to perform online. She spends time arranging times and dates and following up with assisted living centers to set up times in California and other parts of America.
“The hardest part was mostly just the logistics and coordinating everything. The performing was really just a fun experience for me,” she said.
Brooks’ goal is to expand the program and play with other teens in San Mateo and the Bay Area. She has put together a sign-up list at her school for kids who want to play and led virtual performances with other students in her school at assisted living centers. She is also reaching out to other kids who she performed with at music camps. When she performs with other students, she alternates with them playing songs to create a concert performance.
“It’s also really nice for me to be able to play with other musicians because it gives us all an opportunity to play, not together, but with each other,” Brooks said.
Brooks has played piano for over 10 years, beginning with classical piano earlier in her life before switching to studying and playing jazz four years ago with a teacher. She has been attending the Stanford Jazz Workshop and the California Music Conservatory during the summers and plays jazz at her school. She wants to continue to play jazz in the future and join a band.
“I liked classical a lot, but you had a written sheet of music that you would play with others, and I liked how in jazz, it was something more spontaneous where you could just come up with it and improvise,” she said.
Any teens interested in being part of the music program can contact Brooks at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 102