Student Bridges Generational Divide With Music

Piano student broadens horizons and creates lasting friendships while living in senior facility
Close-up photo of Beth Christensen smiling while sitting on bench in front of piano

When most college students walk into their residence hall, they are surrounded by other students their age. Beth Christensen is the youngest person in her residence – by about 50 years.

 “I’ve always believed that the most important things about people are not the facts about them,” Christensen said. “The people here may be 50 or 60 years older than me, but that’s not essential to who they are as people. I’ve come to appreciate that even more with the relationships that I’ve created here.”

Christensen, a graduate student studying collaborative piano performance at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory, lives in Claridge Court senior living facility in Prairie Village,  15 minutes away from campus. In exchange for residency, she performs concerts and provides regular live music for the residents. Christensen moved into Claridge Court in July 2023 to spend a year there as the student-in-residence. In doing so, she allowed Claridge Court to deepen their commitment to intergenerational programming, making them the only retirement community in the area to have such a partnership.

“It’s really fun to have a relationship with your audience as a performer,” Christensen said. “In the beginning, I wouldn’t do anything too out of the ordinary – I would bring a vocalist sometimes, or I would play classical music. As I got more comfortable, I would try new things and play more recent music. Sometimes people wouldn’t like it, and they let me know. Others love to see where the future of music is going. It’s fun to be able to ask what kind of music people want to hear and work it into my repertoire.”

Beth plays the piano, surrounded by an audience of Claridge Court residents sitting in chairs and listening

As part of her living arrangement, Christensen is encouraged to immerse herself in the community. From yoga and chair volleyball to eating dinner and visiting with neighbors generations older than her, she’s become a full-fledged resident of Claridge Court.

“I’m just part of the community, and it’s awesome,” Christensen said. “There’s a lot of special connections I’ve made. My friend Pat was an educator, and I’m a piano teacher. She has great ideas about how to help kids who are struggling, and I can always ask her advice. We do puzzles together, take walks and go to dinner. I tell her about shows I’m watching. She’s been a great friend, and she’s just one example. I feel so nurtured by these friendships.”

Christensen’s presence at Claridge Court is the result of a partnership between the senior living facility and UMKC Conservatory. This is one of the many partnerships in the community that Claridge Court has fostered, as part of their commitment to intergenerational programming and giving back in the community.

“Part of what distinguishes the UMKC Conservatory from other nationally recognized institutions is our deeply rooted connection to the Kansas City community,” said Courtney Crappell, dean of the UMKC Conservatory. “This collaboration demonstrates our ability to offer community-centered learning opportunities to our students as we leverage the power of the arts to positively impact lives.”

The partnership is supported by Claridge Court residents Charlie and Mary Kay Horner, who have been deeply involved with the Conservatory. The Horners were part of the process to bring this partnership to life, including choosing Christensen as the student-in-residence.

“We are absolutely thrilled that Beth has become such an integral part of our community,” Mary Kay Horner said. “Witnessing the connections she’s made with the residents is incredibly gratifying.”

Beth plays a piano, a student plays the violin standing next to her


As a performer, most of the audiences Christensen plays for are filled with strangers. When she performs at Claridge Court, her audience is full of familiar faces. The unique experience of playing to a room of friends is something she cherishes.

“Knowing my audience so personally is something I’ve never experienced before,” Christensen said. “It makes the music more special; it’s been a really cool experience to play for an audience that feel likes family. They really care about me as a person and a musician.”

Rob Salierno, executive director of Claridge Court, says that the benefits of Christensen’s presence extend far beyond her musical talents.

“This unique partnership enriches the lives of both our residents and Beth, fostering invaluable relationships,” Salierno said. “Her musical gifts, meaningful presence and interactions significantly enhance the quality of life for everyone involved.”

Andrew Granade, associate dean of the Conservatory, has helmed the partnership for the Conservatory.  He believes the experience can be uniquely rich for the student-in-residence.

“As a UMKC student, you’re surrounded by a lot of people your age with similar goals and aspirations,” Granade said. “It’s such a rich learning experience to be out of that comfort zone and learn from people with life lessons to share and lived experiences that can expand your horizons in ways unimaginable.”

Christensen hopes her fellow residents at Claridge Court have valued the experience as much as she has.

“Music is such a connecting force. It bridges the divisions that exist between people,” she said. “Having the opportunity to make connections with a community that’s several generations older than me has been so special. These connections don’t make our differences go away, but it helps us really appreciate each other. It’s been such a beautiful experience.”

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Published: Apr 29, 2024

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