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Oregon teen starts musical nonprofit in late grandmother's honor

High school junior Ian Song and his peers wanted to give back to the Portland-area community during COVID-19 hardships. His grandmother helped inspire their cause.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Some Oregon teens are giving back through music, performing for seniors isolated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ian Song started playing the violin at age four. He is now a junior at Cleveland High School in Portland. He founded the nonprofit toRhapsody in August 2020.

"A rhapsody," he explained, "is a piece comprised of one movement that encompasses a variety of musical forms. toRhapsody is an organization that aims to bring peace to the community through a variety of music-based means."

Ian and his peers from Cleveland High School and the Portland Youth Philharmonic travel to senior living facilities to perform.

"In this situation of COVID-19 ... they're usually at home in their rooms," Cleveland High junior Kalob Ho said. "They just sing along with us and some of them tear up."

Clackamas High junior Jaewon Yune said the seniors' responses tell a bigger story.

"When people are all separated, it's easy to get depressed and lonely," Yune said.

Song's inspiration for the musical charity started more than 5,000 miles away. His grandmother passed away this summer in Korea at age 99, unable to see family because of COVID-19 precautions.

"It's deeply saddening to think about the loneliness and isolation from family and friends she must have felt," Song said. "I think it's important for me to give back the love she gave to me to other elderly who may be facing the same situation."

His grandmother's memory has inspired even more beyond that mission; toRhapsody also takes donations to pass along to the Oregon Food Bank and the Equal Justice Initiative.

The nonprofit also includes a page for musical education, with tutorials from student musicians. The goal is to boost community engagement and happiness through music.

"Music just has the power to instill practically any emotion," Song said. "It's really a musician's duty in times like these to give back to the community and instill a sense of hope and positivity."

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