Isaac Kim didn't think reading an article on the link between memory, the elderly and music would lead him to front a nonprofit when he was a high-school freshman
Music of Bakersfield is a group of volunteers that plays classical music at nursing and retirement homes in Bakersfield. Kim initially started playing solo pieces at Brookdale Senior Living's Memory Care Unit, two years ago, in hopes of helping those with Alzheimer's disease. Shortly after inception, Kim was joined by his younger brother, Ian, now a freshman at Stockdale High School.
"It's important to help the elderly," Isaac, a junior at Stockdale High, said. Though there is strong research that ties listening to music to memory recall, his main objective with the group is to ease the feeling of loneliness that can be come with aging and being in a retirement home.
Isaac has been playing violin for about 13 years, but finds playing for seniors to be an incredibly rewarding experience.
Two years later, Music of Bakersfield is thriving. It has other musicians and other instruments: viola, cello and double bass — with about twenty volunteers of various ages who play at Brookdale Senior Living, Brookdale Memory Care Unit and The Alzheimer's Disease Association of Kern County.
Janice Kim, the boys' mother, calls Ian the recruiter, as he tends to invite all of the other volunteers. The Music of Bakersfield volunteers are a close-knit group of friends passionate about the idea of using music to heal and help.
Practice sessions are sought after, performances longed for — these volunteers are happy to give up their weekends if it means helping seniors by playing music.
"When a song is playing and I can hear them singing along to the music, it's really touching," said Giana Park, violinist and freshman at Stockdale High School.
Seeing the reactions in the audience is one of the things that makes the nonprofit's weekly performances, at various adult healthcare facilities in Bakersfield, worthwhile according to Park and Isaac.
Isaac isn't referring to general praise or applause. At the first facility that Kim played at he said a woman asked to play "America the Beautiful."
On another occasion, a woman appeared upset and asked where the "little one" was, when Ian Kim was absent for a performance.
The group tries to play folk tunes, patriotic tunes, music from "The Sound of Music" — even Christmas music in July — anything to help jog the seniors' memories.
Music of Bakersfield is helpful for younger generations too, like violinist Rafael Marinas, one of the youngest members of the group.
"I'm trying to challenge myself playing in front of other people," Marinas said.
It's not all self-improvement for Marinas either.
"I want to give them a happy ending," he said.
Isaac isn't sure if he'll turn his violin skills into a career, but is determined to keep Music of Bakersfield going strong when he leaves for college.
"I never thought volunteering at a nursing home would come this far and this many people would be enthusiastic about it," he said.