Multimedia: Battling Isolation With Music


Joseph Morag and Ian Niederhoffer, both 17, have been playing together since they were 3 years-old. Here they play at Dr. Avodah Offit's home on the behalf of Concerts in Motion, a nonprofit that brings live-music to the homebound.

Joseph Morag and Ian Niederhoffer, both 17, have been playing together since they were 3 years-old. Here they play at Dr. Avodah Offit’s home on the behalf of Concerts in Motion, a nonprofit that brings live-music to the homebound.

Music filled the living room—Passacaglia, a piece by Handel, arranged by Halvorsen and played by a violin and a viola. The melody seemed to bring life to the vast space, decorated with black and white photos, dozen of small sculptures and hundreds of books neatly lined up on two large bookcases.

Standing in the middle of the room, Joseph Morag and Ian Niederhoffer, both 17, closed their eyes. Their right hands, holding the bows, waltzed in rhythm, their left fingers danced on the strings.

Sitting in armchairs in front of them: Dr. Avodah Offit, a former psychiatrist and sex therapist, and her husband, Sidney Offit, respectively 82 and 85 years-old.

Morag and Niederhoffer are two of 600 New York kids, ranging from elementary schools students to high-school graduates, who perform on the behalf of Concerts in Motion, which brings live-music to homebound citizens, for free.

The organization’s young musicians come from music classes, private or public schools and performing arts organizations. Their skill levels range from beginner to pre-professional.  “The idea is to use music as a catalyst for interaction, and that interaction is combating the social isolation that can come from having to stay home all day,” said Jennifer Finn, a violinist, opera singer and music teacher who founded the organization in 2009.

In the next twenty years, demographers expect residents 65 and older to increase by 35 percent, according to a recent study on New York’s seniors by the Center for an Urban Future. In 2010, about 17 percent of the city population was over 60, census data show.
And as the New York City population ages, the number of people unable to leave their homes is increasing.  Along with chronic illnesses, social isolation is one of the main challenges of the homebound population, according to Dr. David Muller, who has been working with homebound patients for the past 20 years with Mount Sinai Hospital in Harlem.

What homebound seniors need the most is access to socialization in any form and access to medical care, both of which would provide a safe, comfortable, dignified living environment, Dr. Muller, who co-founded Mount Sinai Visiting Doctors Program in 1995, wrote in an email. The service brings medical care to over 1,000 homebound patients each year.

Five years ago, Dr. Muller joined Concerts in Motion’s board of directors. He now connects some of his patients, such as Dr. Offit, with the nonprofit.  “I think music provides people with an escape from their cares and worries,” he wrote in an email.



Dr. Offit thought it was a joke when her physician asked her if she would like to have some musicians coming to her Upper East Side apartment. “Of course, send an orchestra!” she replied, thinking she was being teased. But after the 45-minute presentation, she said, “I like what I heard this afternoon very much.” Still, she was still a bit shocked to receive a private concert in her living room.

Morag and Niederhoffer, who both volunteered to play, said they enjoy performing in this type of setting. “Every time we do it I feel like it’s the most important part of what we do,” said Morag, a student at LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts and the concertmaster of New York Youth Symphony.

“Of course, everyone is inspired to have their big concert in Carnegie Hall,” the young musician said, “performing here you don’t get the same fame and glory of an audience of 10,000 people, but the two people you play for just appreciate it that much more.”

Dr. Offit said the performance made her “feel part of another century, another life and another lifestyle” while her husband, who is not homebound, said it reminded him of when they had friends coming over to play their piano. “It brings back a lot of memories,” he said, “it spices up the day, the week and even the month.”

Playing for the homebound is just one of five programs organized by Concerts in Motion. The group also sends musicians to VA hospitals, nursing homes, homeless shelters and centers for adults with mental disabilities. The organization always sends a professional musician first to meet the service-receivers and perform for them, and then asks them if they’d like a youth visit.

Not all situations are great for kids, notes Finn, and if her organization can’t send youths, it sends professional musicians only. While the kids volunteer, Concerts in Motion usually pays professionals a hundred dollars for the performances, which last between 30 minutes to an hour.

Recently, the organization has been working to connect public schools with seniors’ centers that are at a walking distance from the school.  As with all its programs, the main goal is to reinforce community and intergenerational bonds, Finn said.  So far, Concerts in Motion has worked with five public schools located in Brooklyn and in Manhattan.