Ian Song was saddened that the COVID-19 pandemic made it impossible for him to visit his 99-year-old grandmother in Korea as she died.
He despaired that she was not surrounded by loved ones during her final hours.
"I grew up under her care and love for many years, so it was heartbreaking when we could not see her off in person," he said.
That inspired the 16-year-old Portland violinist to get a group of musicians together and play outdoor concerts at nursing homes and assisted living facilities around Portland during the pandemic, which isolated so many.
"The concept of giving back to the community goes back to when I was younger. Some friends and I performed on the street to raise money for disaster relief, for earthquakes in Nepal and Ecuador," he said.
"But this year, COVID-19 is a disaster on a different scale," he added.
Song reached out through his colleagues in the Portland Youth Philharmonic and rounded up a chamber group of musicians who also had an interest in giving back. They call the group and its associated nonprofit Rhapsody. Song has started the nonprofit to support the musical group as well as other nonprofit organizations.
"It's been quite heartwarming," Song said of the concerts for the elderly.
The folks appreciate the music so much "they actually tear up sometimes," he said.
Song said the group selects "lighthearted" classical music for the concerts.
"Some of the nursing homes are Christian, so then we play some hymns they would be familiar with, to bring up good memories," Song said.
Portland Youth Philharmonic musical director David Hattner said Song "is one of our outstanding young musicians."
Hattner said that Song holds the position of co-concertmaster of PYP's main orchestra, "a post that is held by highly skilled musicians, one that only extraordinary musicians occupy."
Song started playing the violin at age 4, using the Suzuki method. He has taken private lessons and currently studies with Carol Sindell, a professor at Portland State University and prominent violin teacher.
He practices every day for about two hours and counts Itzhak Perlman and Ray Chen among his favorite violinists.
"Musically, I listen to them the most," he said.
Song is a top student at Cleveland High School and has a weighted 4.0 grade point average.
His school work, nonprofit organization, elder concerts and co-concertmaster position in the Portland Youth Philharmonic don't leave much time for other activities, but Song said that during the pandemic, he and some friends took up biking.
"We really just wanted a way to socialize, get some fresh air and exercise," Song said.
As the weather has gotten colder and it will be impossible for the musicians to perform outside, Song hopes to take their performances online.
"It will not just be for the elderly, but for anyone who needs it," he said.
He plans to invite young musicians to make videos and recordings and they'll splice them together and create concert videos and post them on their website.
The musicians so far are all male. "Yes, that's unfortunate," Song said.
The group's web page has a donation link and supporters can donate to Song's musical group, to the Oregon Food Bank or the Equal Justice Initiative.
"It's good to promote other organizations that are doing really good things," Song said.
Hattner isn't surprised by Song's enterprise. "He's ambitious and extraordinarily dedicated in terms of his work ethic."
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