Wednesday, May 11, 2016

For the Elderly, Music is a Gateway to Memory, Not Just Entertainment

There was a time when, like many people, I didn't expect to find myself at a retirement facility until my future children put me there.

A few months ago, when I was approached to perform vocal concerts for homes around Montgomery County, I agreed apprehensively. I associated elder care with memories of my grandparents in Alzheimer's units — memories that felt far too fresh.

Still, I put together a 20-song repertoire: Rodgers and Hammerstein, Frank Sinatra, the Andrews Sisters. I chose songs I hoped would spark a connection in the residents' minds, like how my Pop Pop's expression would remain empty, but his fingers would tap in perfect unison to The Beatles.

"I think that might be too melancholy," my mother said, as I packed sheet music for "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

With my emotions carefully tucked away, I prepared myself to tackle my first concert as the business venture I wished to see it as. Instead, the room full of strangers effortlessly broke down my barriers when their choir of voices joined me in song.

Since then, I've never sung Judy Garland on my own.

I stay for a while after each concert to hear the residents' stories. Although they sometimes lack clarity, the stories are still brimming with life. The residents talk about their favorite operas, offer me comical stage name suggestions, and reminisce about a song that reminds them of a loved one who is now very far away. One day, a resident who studied in Salzburg, Austria, in her youth, reciprocated with the gift of a piano recital.

Every time I go to a new facility, music opens a door for the residents to gain awareness of the present even if the song stirs a musical memory of the past.


Charlene said...

Music is important to people of all ages!

Rachel said...

Music is the universal language.