The Iris Music Project: A Melodic Journey at Charles E. Smith Life Communities

Iris Music Project

The Iris Music Project: A Melodic Journey at Charles E. Smith Life Communities

Crafting Harmonies in Senior Living

While you may be familiar with the principles and practices of music therapy, the Iris Music Project (Iris) introduces something entirely different yet profoundly impactful to participants. With Iris, music is not simply entertainment; it’s a tool that inspires community and fosters self-rediscovery. The introduction of the Iris Music Project elevates Charles E. Smith Life Communities’ (CESLC) commitment to holistic care, nurturing its residents’ bodies and spirits through uniquely designed collaborative programming.

A musical bridge sparks curiosity. 

Meet Lauren Latessa, the founder of the Iris Music Project. As an accomplished professional musician passionate about the cello, Latessa helms this initiative with an approach that leans into community building and connection through the transformative power of music. Her vision is focused on creating organic, communal musical experiences within healthcare settings. 

“Music becomes the bridge,” remarks Latessa. “It’s not just about notes and melodies; it’s about connecting with each other, evoking memories, and also believing in the promise of today.”

Latessa notices the progression in residents immersed in the program, with residents often beginning their journey as spectators, attending live performances. Watching live performances and having the musicians within reach grows curiosity. That curiosity can transform into a question about a musical note or a particular technique. And, over time, that budding interest may blossom into full-fledged piano lessons or even culminate in a stirring, resident-led performance. 

The overture begins …

In 2016, the melodies of the Iris Music Project first resonated through the corridors of CESLC. This sprawling six-building campus, home to over 1,000 older adults, was the birthplace of this profound musical endeavor. Starting with the inspiring sounds of cellist Latessa’s performances, the project grew within the community, welcoming the addition of three more talented musicians to form the Iris Piano Trio. This expansion began an exciting, creative exchange that bridges the gap between professional musicians and the vibrant residents of the CESLC

Today, CESLC and Iris have embraced an innovative Ensemble-in-Residence model. This approach involves placing professional musicians within senior living communities and healthcare settings. These musicians collaborate closely with residents, crafting programs that reflect the unique spirit and needs of each community. Residents can contribute in myriad ways, from co-designing programs to performing or participating as audience members.

What distinguishes CESLC and Iris is their commitment to co-creating these programs. Communities and residents have the opportunity to shape, perform and partake in these experiences. This level of engagement is unmatched and has inspired the adoption of similar initiatives within other communities. CESLC and Iris exemplify how creative innovation can enhance lives and facilitate new ways of thinking about the connection between the arts and wellness.

Rediscovering the self through music.

The vision of the Iris Music Project goes beyond performing; it’s about connecting, understanding and building a mutual rhythm to form bridges within a community and within the self. Through this partnership, CESLC residents have rekindled passions, shared stories and even discovered latent musical talents. Some have transformed their poetry into song, while others have joined the professional ensemble, showcasing their musical flair. Each day brings a new melody, a new story and a renewed sense of purpose. 

At CESLC, musicians, including those from the Iris Music Project, interact deeply with residents, reminiscing over tunes from bygone eras, curating playlists that spark memories and co-creating performances. It’s a resounding retort to the internalized ageism we all grapple with, dispelling the myth that aging is a barrier to learning or trying something new. Each melody and chord shatters this misconception, infusing the atmosphere with hope and rekindling dormant passions.

Here comes the sun.

The name of Latessa’s nonprofit, “Iris Music Project,” carries a rich legacy of resilience, beauty and connection. At its heart lies a tribute to Lauren’s mother, Patricia. Navigating the uncertainties of a prolonged illness, Patricia’s journey is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit. Even in the face of adversity, every day presented opportunities for beautiful, joyous moments. With its emphasis on harnessing the arts to form new or forgotten connections, Iris manifests this belief.

One touching anecdote from Lauren encapsulates the transformative nature of Iris. A resident once confided in Lauren her feelings about life’s sun setting. Yet, through her immersion in music, she experienced a revitalizing dawn that infused her world with fresh vitality. Lauren recalled, “I had one lady say it beautifully a few years ago when she told me she used to feel as though the sun was setting on her life, but now feels like it’s rising again.”

The Iris Music Project is a testament to music’s transformative power, an enduring reminder that life’s melodies continue, regardless of age. To learn more about their current projects and endeavors, visit their website

A community dedicated to the arts.

While the Iris Music Project is an essential cultural pillar at CESLC, it is not the only expression of the community’s love of music. From opera recitals to jazz performances to community dances, CESLC offers a myriad of musical engagement opportunities to all residents, satisfying a variety of styles and tastes. 

Would you like to join us? 

Check out our events page and explore our LifeLAB program, which offers unique musical, entertainment and educational opportunities in North Bethesda, MD, open to individuals aged 62 or better. See how Charles E. Smith Life Communities is more than a senior living community; it’s a symphony of life experiences. Here, amidst laughter, shared memories and spirited melodies, residents rediscover joy and purpose.