Harmony at the Ridgefield House is at Olivia Walker’s Fingertips
Residents at the Ridgefield group home are gathered at the dining room table for a morning snack. As Olivia Walker finishes, she walks over to her Hamilton upright piano in the living room.
“Give me a pitch,” she says. A reference to one of her favorite movies Pitch Perfect. There is no pitch pipe, but the residents and staff enjoy mimicking the sound of one for her.
“Tell me if I kill it,” she said, before playing Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You,” a popular request in the house. “I will, you know I will,” said Kathy Reid, a residential manager at Monarch.
Walker has always had musical talents, whether it be playing the piccolo, flute or guitar. On the piano, she plays everything from classical masterpieces to Christian hymns and even Happy Birthday for each of the housemates and staff members when their birthday arrives.
But you won’t find sheet music anywhere. Olivia is blind, but hasn’t allowed her impaired vision to minimize her talent. She’s been playing side-by-side with her mother at Lick Creek Baptist Church in Benton, North Carolina since she was a child.
“Olivia plays all instruments by pure natural talent and feels her way through the song until she masters it on the instrument,” said Kim Goff, director of program operations. “She voiced an interest in taking lessons from an instructor about 10 years ago. But after the first piano lesson, the instructor walked out and said she had never met anyone like Olivia. Everything the instructor presented to her, Olivia could already play,” added Goff.
Harmony in the home isn’t just heard resonating from the piano’s soundboard, it permeates through to the long-standing relationships there. Olivia and her five housemates have lived together at Ridgefield for the last 25 years. Staff members believe her talent is a major piece of creating the home’s outgoing, but relaxed and loving atmosphere.
“They sing together often. At dinner, sometimes they all get together and sing. Someone requests a song for her to play and they all sing it,” said Reid. “It brings great joy to this house. [The staff] sings along as well sometimes. It can shift the atmosphere too. If someone in the house is feeling sad, it brings the joy and laughter and unity back to the house, because they all come together when they hear the music playing,” she added.
Olivia has had concert performances, and has also played for church events, nursing homes, funerals and even performed at the opening session for Monarch’s initial Council on Quality and Leadership accreditation, never letting nerves shake her.
“I get happy. I like to hear the crowd giving a stand ovation,” Olivia said. “Guess what’s next on my repertoire?” she asked before turning back to her keys to play a favorite hymn, Into My Heart.
“She wants to make people happy. She wants people to applaud, but she also wants to give her audience good music. It’s how she knows she’s giving a good quality performance. It’s meaningful for her,” said Reid.
The most meaningful performances may be the ones at home for holidays, birthdays and special requests.
“At holidays, she brings more to the feeling in the house. For Christmas, they all decorate with Kathy and the staff and Olivia plays Christmas songs so it brings them together and brings awareness of holidays and it’s something she wants to do for her housemates,” said Team Lead Tara Sellers. “Rita said the other day she wants to hear Jesus Loves Me, and Olivia went straight to the piano and played it twice, just for Rita, so it made Rita’s day,” said Sellers.
Because Olivia loves to sing while she plays, she has expressed a great interest in taking voice lessons, something Monarch staff members are working to coordinate.