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Senior vocal performance major finds home in senior living

Gabby Clutter, a senior vocal performance major at Drake University, lives and performs at a local retirement home.

Most Drake University students spend their college years living with peers, be it in a residence hall, apartment, or house. But senior vocal performance major Gabrielle Clutter has settled in with a different age group: seniors.

Clutter is the artist in residence at Deerfield, a senior living community in Urbandale. Through a special partnership between Drake and Deerfield, Clutter lives and eats at Deerfield for free, in exchange for performing two concerts a month.

“I realized that (this position) is something special,” Clutter said. “It’s been great for performance opportunities.”

Clutter said she decided to take the opportunity after talking with Haley Jenkins, a Drake alumna who held the position during her time at Drake and has since gone on to work in senior living.

“The way Haley talked about it was very inspiring,” Clutter said.

Clutter typically sings opera pieces, but also performs some classic musical theater songs by composers such as George Gershwin and Rogers & Hammerstein. She said she sometimes has some Drake friends come along to perform as well, and there are sing-a-longs every couple months.

“I couldn’t ask for a better audience,” Clutter said.

Clutter saves a lot of money on food and rent, but has discovered other, more special benefits in living among the residents.

“I’ve definitely learned so much,” Clutter said. “I’ve learned the importance of talking to people and getting to know people. The residents all have lived so many years and seen the world differently and grown up differently.”

Clutter said she loves talking with all the residents, so much so that dinner with residents can last up to three hours.

“It’s nice because no one has phones or anything, so we’re talking all the time,” Clutter said.

Clutter even leaves early for classes so she has time to stop and talk with the residents in the hall on the way.

Jenkins, who graduated with a Bachelor of Music degree in May 2016, said her time at Deerfield was life-changing.

“I was struggling to find (a purpose) throughout my entire senior year, and once I was settled at Deerfield, I knew this was where I am meant to be: with and surrounded by seniors,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins is now the enrichment coordinator for Holiday Retirement in Des Moines. When she looks back at her time at Deerfield, she said time shared with the seniors was important for both the residents and the artist in residence.

“I loved when residents would share with me, and I loved sharing my different perspective with them,” Jenkins said. “Intergenerational experiences are so important for both sides of the spectrum. I wish we had more programs set up for that.”

Clarence Padilla, music department chair and professor of clarinet, said the University is extremely proud of the Deerfield partnership, which has received attention from national news outlets including USA Today College and The Huffington Post.

“The opportunity presents a real-life experience for an aspiring performer to showcase his/her talents to an adoring audience. At the same time, the residents at Deerfield are treated to high quality performances and interactions multiple times per month by a talented young adult,” Padilla said. “It’s a win-win situation for both parties!”

Clutter is applying to graduate schools right now in hopes of performing with opera companies or teaching voice at the collegiate level. She said this experience has allowed her learn more about what she wants to do with music.

“With performing, it’s easy to get caught up in your head and wonder why you’re doing it,” Clutter said. “I’ll give a concert [at Deerfield] and talk to a resident, and I’ll be like, ‘Okay, that’s why I’m doing it – to let people take a break from life, to entertain, to tell a story.’”