By Anna Hughes | Photos by Laura Meyer

On a sunny Saturday afternoon in March, many high school students are spending time with friends, relaxing from the hectic week prior, or enjoying the slightly warmer weather.

Charlie Russ, on the other hand, spent his day a little differently.

Russ, a Hinsdale Central High School junior, spent the afternoon of March 9 playing piano at LaGrange Pointe retirement community. He’s the founder of TunesForSeniors, an initiative for local students to volunteer their time and talent to bring music to retirement communities around the area. He and his two friends, Andrew Kim on the saxophone and Manny Eden on the trombone, performed various songs from “Linus and Lucy” to “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

“We just thought [TunesForSeniors] will be a good way to integrate music and community service and also giving back to retirement communities just like this.”

– Charlie Russ

“We just thought [TunesForSeniors] will be a good way to integrate music and community service and also giving back to retirement communities just like this,” Russ said about starting the program.

Russ, a talented, classically trained pianist, plays all 20 songs on the set by memory (yes, including Bohemian Rhapsody). He’s been developing his skills since he started playing at six years old. He recalls a disconnect with classical training, saying it felt like homework. At age 11, he started focusing on jazz, and that’s when everything changed.

“I also enjoyed [jazz] more as being able to kind of play more freely and just play more what I want,” Russ said. “I feel like I started flourishing from there.”

Russ has played over 20 shows at nine retirement communities throughout the suburbs in the last few months. LaGrange Pointe excitedly welcomed him back for a second performance. Residents sang along to familiar tunes, smiling and clapping after each piece. The music is not only entertaining but also healing. It provides cognitive stimulation, reduces anxiety, and has been shown to increase mood, memory, and mental alertness (Johns Hopkins Medicine).

“The residents absolutely love their performance. There were more people here than last time because they talked about the first performance,” LaGrange Pointe property manager Maria Haraus said. “We really appreciate it.”

Haraus said it’s very telling of the boys’ characters that they would willingly spend their free time brightening up others’ lives. For Russ, that’s what it’s all about. He said it feels great to give back to his community, especially getting to do it with his friends. It’s also a fantastic opportunity to hone in on skills and get additional performance experience.

“When you’re practicing at home, when no one’s watching, you just doodle around, you can do whatever,” Russ said. “But when you’re at a concert … it’s a really different experience and it’s a good experience. It’s good exposure.”

Russ isn’t sure what the future holds, but he knows music and piano will be a part of it. In the meantime, he continues to play with the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra’s Jazz Orchestra, Hinsdale Central’s Jazz Band, and as many retirement communities as he can. He hopes that Tunes for Seniors will live on after he leaves for college next year.

“Our hope is for it to be a self-sustainable actual club,” Russ said. “We hope to schedule times for many different groups. It doesn’t have to just be jazz. It could be choir groups, just regular school band, orchestra, it can be anything. It’s all going to be appreciated.”

For more information about TunesForSeniors, visit ■

LaGrange Pointe residents enjoy the boys’ performance.
Charlie Russ, Andrew Kim, Manny Eden performed at LaGrange Pointe retirement community on March 9.