My Recital at a Retirement Home

Pianist Youlan Ji performed on Show 309, recorded in July 2015, at age 15. She was also a recipient of From the Top’s Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award. Everyone who receives this award is required to do an arts leadership outreach project where they take their music beyond the concert hall and out into the community. Here, Youlan describes what she did, and why it was so meaningful.


When I first started brainstorming for this project, I knew right away that I wanted to go to a retirement home. I wished to play for people whose situations might not allow them to go to concert halls anymore to enjoy performances. I wanted to bring them the same quality of music that they would hear at a professional concert hall without them having to leave their home.

When I was little, my grandparents always shared their passion for music with me. They would sing me songs that they recorded from the radio, teach me lyrics that they jotted down. Even though they had such enthusiasm for music, they never had the luxury and the convenience to go to a concert hall to enjoy the power of live music. As a piano student, I used to hold “minirecitals” for them to “report” the progress I made and the new pieces I had learned to play. They always loved these recitals and looked forward to them. A few years after I started my minirecitals, every weekend, my grandparents would gather some of their friends to come listen to my playing, and through time, it grew from a small recital that was just for my grandparents, to a big event that I had to prepare for every week.

Ever since I started thinking about this project my goal has been bringing the seniors the beauty of music at their own homes. I started approaching this by contacting the owner of the retirement home, who is a very respected friend of my parents. We set a plan and a program for the recital, made a unique poster in both Chinese and English, and I finally got to visit them on Nov. 11th. As soon as I walked into the doors of the retirement home, I was reminded of my grandparents and their friends. Their warm welcomes and bright, energetic smiles made me forget about our age difference. I felt like I was one of them: chatting with them, and playing ping-pong with them.

As I was performing, I could almost feel them exploring the music with me, breathing with me, and enjoying every beat of the music. I pictured myself as a story teller, telling them stories through my music. After I finished my playing, the responses I got from them were absolutely overwhelming. Some of them couldn’t wait to take out the songs that they wrote to ask me to revise them, some of them asked me to teach them how to identify the piano keyboard and how to read music. Seeing the joy and the amazement they got from my music melted my heart.

Youlan Ji performing

Youlan Ji performing

From talking and interacting with them, I was reminded of the purpose of performing and sharing music with other people. During my visit at the retirement home, my music acted as a bridge that connected myself with them. I was able to bring joy to them and share my stories through my playing. From this experience, I learned to use music to give back to the community, and also let more people know and experience the power of music.


Youlan with her dad Jie Ji, the center's owner Baoli Zhang, and Weixiong Li

Youlan with her dad Jie Ji, the center’s owner Baoli Zhang, and friend Weixiong Li, after the performance