This past weekend, I had the opportunity to do something wonderful with the Back Bay Chorale – a great volunteer chorus I’ve talked about here in the past. Under the auspices of their new Bridges program, we have been visiting nursing homes and assisted living facilities in small groups, singing well-known songs to seniors in all stages of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Our foray this weekend was to Hopkinton, where 15 of us sang “The Star Spangled Banner,” “Ave Verum Corpus,” standards like “Moonglow” and “All the Things You Are,” and a sing-along medley of The Sound of Music. The audience consisted of a cohort of Alzheimer’s patients – this was the first facility we’ve gone to that was entirely a locked Alzheimer’s unit – and an energetic, positive staff.
One sharp old character – a former professor at BU whom the director addressed as “Doctor” – kept asking to see the words of the songs so he could better sing along. One woman in the front row kept saying “wonderful,” and sang along to the standards, knowing every word. Others were less responsive, but one woman simply opened her mouth and sang.
The response we received reminded me powerfully of a video I shared in another post, in which an almost entirely unresponsive man is brought to sudden lucidity by listening to a familiar song. Aw heck, it’s so good, here it is again:
I keep being floored by the effect that music can have on the brains and hearts of people who are watching their lives and memories fade. After we sang one of the jazz standards, one woman exclaimed, “That takes me back, oh, about 25 years!” The brightness that came into these people’s eyes, the clarity, was at moments stunning.
I’m looking forward to more of this, and more research on how music can help restore, even temporarily, a person’s sense of self, time, and place.