Monday Moanin’: Music makes the world go ‘round if we turn the page

A Blog by Jeff Salisbury

Some of my earliest chmister journalism2ildhood memories involve music. Before I was able to verbalize or speak or make myself understood, I was hearing music — from my mother playing piano and singing along, or playing music on a record player, to the sounds of a church choir.

In my mother’s household growing up, even though it was pre- and post-Great Depression, it was a necessity that she and her siblings each were expected to learn at least one musical instrument. She and her siblings, except for her youngest brother, were all born in the 1920s and somehow, some way her parents insisted and found a way for that to happen.

My mother, who always sang in our church choir and was assistant director and accompanist for the youth choir, insisted I too take up a musical instrument. For me it was piano. I was never very good – try as I might – and after perhaps three long years (perhaps age 7-10 or 8-11) one final recital did me in. I cannot recall the piece I was to play, but I did in fact play it quite flawlessly and received a more than just polite round of applause. The recital was held in the home of my piano teacher, Mrs. Rider – “the parlor” we called such rooms in those days – and afterward she called us into her kitchen for a general review and discussion of what sort of lessons she might be planning next for us as we progressed to the next level – whatever that might be. As I recall, the conversation went something like this:

“Jeffrey, I want you to know you did quite well today. However I can no longer continue as your piano instructor.”

“Oh no, Mrs. Rider,” I said, feigning dismay, “why not?”

“Well, Jeffrey,” she said. “It’s clear that you cannot read music.”

“Mrs. Rider! I can do read music…every single note.”

Well, Jeffrey,” she said. “If that’s true why did I never see you turn the page of your sheet music?”

I was of course VERY relieved. I’d never REALLY wanted to take piano lessons after all.

A discussion with my mother would be difficult because she so wanted me to emulate her talent, but the truth was I was just not very good and as Ricky Ricardo told his wife, “Lucy, you got some splainin’ to do!”

I tried pleasing my mother by getting involved in youth and adult choirs in our church but not being able to “sight-read” the music put me at a distinct disadvantage, but I sincerely loved vocal music then and I still do. My brother, eight years my junior, never took piano lessons – because he didn’t need to – he was prodigious at the keyboard and some of my earliest memories of him are sitting at the piano, imitating my mother and me, and skillfully playing TV commercial jingles and holiday carols “by ear” from the time he was just a toddler. Marvelous gift. I was certainly not that fortunate.

My mother’s interest in music grew throughout her childhood and she continued to be a skilled musician and a very talented vocalist. I certainly get my love and appreciation for vocal music and learned much through watching and listening and discussing music with her over her lifetime. She enjoyed everything from Big Band and Swing music to the classics, and jazz and opera.

Sadly, she began forgetting more than she recalled about her skills and talents as dementia dominated her final years before she passed away in early 2014 just shy of her 89th birthday.

This week a post from AARP came across my Facebook wall…

The Healing Power of Music

For Alzheimer’s patients, music can be good medicine

by Mary Ellen Geist, AARP Bulletin, July/August 2015

“I’ve been a bad girl. Am I in trouble?” asks an obviously distraught Naomi. Tears begin to form in the corners of her eyes. She wrings her hands as she sits in her wheelchair in the lobby of an Alzheimer’s disease care facility.

“No, you’re not in trouble,” says recreational therapist Mindy Smith. But nothing seems to help Naomi’s mood. “I’ve been a bad girl,” she repeats over and over.

Then Mindy says, “Do you want your music?” Naomi’s face brightens as headphones are gently placed over her ears. And as a big band arrangement of George Gershwin’s ” ‘S Wonderful” flows from her iPod, Naomi begins to smile.

Scenes like this are being repeated in nursing facilities and homes across America. New research is confirming and expanding an idea long held by those who work with dementia patients: Music can not only improve the mood of people with neurological diseases, it can boost cognitive skills and reduce the need for antipsychotic drugs.

Music therapists who work with Alzheimer’s patients describe seeing people “wake up” when the sounds of loved and familiar music fills their heads. Often, after months or even years of not speaking at all, they begin to talk again, become more social and seem more engaged by their surroundings. Some begin to remember names long forgotten. Some even do what Alzheimer’s patients often cannot do as their disease worsens: They remember who they are.

Neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks wrote in his book “Musicophilia” that for Alzheimer’s patients, music can be very much like medicine. “Music is no luxury to them, but a necessity, and it can have a power beyond anything else to restore them to themselves, and to others, at least for a while.”

Commenting on my Fb post was my friend and writer Charlotte Weick who wrote, “Sometimes I use music in my hospice volunteer work and it is amazing how people respond to music. My dear friend Al Baker was caregiver for his sweet Mom, who had dementia. She could no longer recognize friends and loved ones, but music triggered something amazing in her brain. One night a week, Al and friends would play music and sing with his Ma. Al made a big word songbook because her eyes were bad. As soon as she heard the first few notes of a song, she would join in, her voice quavering, but pitch perfect. She glanced at the words, but mostly remembered them. I joined in one night with Al in singing for Florence. I had never seen anything like it. Her face would light up when she heard the first few notes of “The Old Rugged Cross,” or “In the Garden,” and she’d start warbling like a little nightingale! Music, and all of the arts, can be of great benefit to people with dementia and Alzheimer’s, the elderly who suffer from chronic health problems and the dying. When Florence went into hospice , her son and friends were at her side, playing her favorite tunes to sing her out.”

Brought a tear to my eye actually, that story did, because my mother lived hundreds and hundreds of miles away from me in North Carolina but even so I was grateful that her brother and sister-in-law were with her. However, perhaps if I’d have read this article and looked over some other links I’ll post below, maybe I could have arranged for music therapy which might have awakened her too. Perhaps not. We’ll never know. But Charlotte’s thoughts and my own as I reflected on my mother’s life got me to researching the whole subject of music therapy with Alzheimer’s patients.

Should you have a loved one struggled with here are some important links (including some marvelous videos) worth reviewing.

As for me, I might turn the page and see if I can provide some local support for music therapy here in Wayland. Perhaps you’ll be motivated to turn the page too.

Man In Nursing Home Reacts To Hearing Music From His Era

For more on how Music and Memory helps elderly residents and facility patients, to volunteer or to donate iPods, please visit Get FREE resources on the project! Volunteer an iPod drive! Find a local facility you can help!

Alive Inside Official Trailer 1 (2014) – Alzheimer’s Documentary HD

Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory (2014 – full updated documentary)

Published on Jun 18, 2015

ALIVE INSIDE is a joyous cinematic exploration of music’s capacity to reawaken our souls and uncover the deepest parts of our humanity. This stirring documentary follows social worker Dan Cohen, founder of the nonprofit organization Music & Memory, as he fights against a broken health care system to demonstrate music’s ability to combat memory loss and restore a deep sense of self to those suffering from it. Film maker Michael Rossato-Bennett visits family members who have witnessed the miraculous effects of personalized music on their loved ones, and offers illuminating interviews with experts including renowned neurologist and best-selling author Oliver Sacks (Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain) and musician Bobby McFerrin (“Don’t Worry, Be Happy”).

An uplifting cinematic exploration of music and the mind, ALIVE INSIDE’s inspirational and emotional story left audiences humming, clapping and cheering at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award.



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