The Oasis Program

Greeting the morning with a song

An innovative music program created in the Faculty of Arts and Science is expanding its reach to support more older adults.

A flagship research-creation program of The Accessible & Inclusive Music Theatre Project, the Rise, Shine, and Sing! program was established in February 2020 in-person and pivoted to a virtual environment at the onset of the pandemic. Now the program, created by FAS Professors Colleen Renihan and Julia Brook (DAN School of Drama and Music), is joining forces with the Oasis Expansion and Evaluation Project to bring music into the lives of older adults living in the community.

The Oasis Program is a unique model of active aging-in-place originally developed with a group of older adults living in an apartment building in Kingston. Since 2019, Professors Catherine Donnelly and Vince DePaul (School of Rehabilitation Therapy) have led the Oasis Expansion and Evaluation Project, spreading the program to communities across Ontario and British Columbia.

“We reached out to Catherine and Vincent and were successful in receiving New Frontiers in Research funding and this is allowing us to bring our program to the Oasis communities beginning in October,” says Dr. Renihan. The project was awarded $237,970 as part of the 2021 Innovative Approaches to Research in the Pandemic Context fund.

During each weekly session of Rise, Shine, Sing!, participants engage in a series of vocal and movement warm-ups, and sing and dance to a repertoire of folk, musical theatre, and popular hits. No previous singing or dancing experience is required, and no digital savvy beyond clicking the Zoom link is needed.

“This is a time of creativity and learning and we wanted to learn more from this age group and look at the way they can be creative through music theatre,” explains Dr. Brook. “We teamed up with Catherine and Vincent because we want to learn a little more about health and well-being of seniors. Oasis also helps us spread our base to see how different groups may want to engage in this virtual interaction.”

A core philosophy of Oasis Program is the empowerment of the older adults living in the community. Each Oasis community features an Oasis members committee and onsite program coordinator. The members identify what they need and want their Oasis Program to look like and the Onsite Coordinator works with them to make it happen. All programming occurs onsite in common spaces such as the community room in an apartment building ensuring that everyone can access the activities and services they need and want. Programming includes everything from daily coffee drop-in, chair exercise classes, line dancing, creative writing workshops, guest speaker series, and potluck or catered meals.  

“The Rise, Shine, Sing program aligns perfectly with the goals of the Oasis Program – to support older adults to age well by building strong social connections, and staying physically and mentally active” says Dr. DePaul. “Many members are particularly interested in the arts, and the positive response to this program reflects that. Having fun and sharing a laugh is also so important – again another great reason the Rise, Shine Sing! program fits with Oasis perfectly.” 

Along with fun, Rise, Shine, Sing! has health benefits for the participants and is also accessible for seniors of all ages and abilities. The classes feature seated and standing dance positions, exercises to enhance breath control, different options for movement, and Dr. Brook says they also provide a prop box to all participants featuring a top hat, scarves, shakers, among other things to keep things fun. The team says they are now seeing new dimensions of the participants' personalities as they take on different characters in their singing and dancing.

“Our project aims to find ways to help people of all ages and abilities to leverage their creative and artistic potentials in a digital space,” says Dr. Renihan.

Dr. Brook says they are unaware of other studies that investigate virtual music theatre with older adults. “Our study is poised to develop a more inclusive understanding of the possibilities for music theatre to engage older adults, and to develop virtual programs focusing on well-being that alleviate loneliness and isolation in creative, and newly accessible ways.”

To learn more about the Rise, Shine, Sing! program, watch the video on YouTube or check out the Rise, Shine, Sing! website.