Music Strikes A Note with Those Living with Dementia
By Maka Boeve
“Sing. Sing a song. Make it simple to last your whole life long,” crooned the ’70s phenomenon, The Carpenters, as they made joyful music. Music captures memories and inspires a range of emotions. Formed in 2018, the Resounding Voices chorus strongly believes in the power of music, starting each practice singing this uplifting song.
SO MUCH TO GIVE
According to artistic director Suzanne Johnson, the group’s name originated “because the sound keeps on going.” She further explains, “These wonderful people have so much to give.” The choir, made up of over 30 members, tries to “give a voice to the people” and “focus not on the deficits, but rather on the positives.” The first half hour of food, fun and fellowship gives an opportunity to share stories and provide support.
MUSIC SPARKS MEMORIES
According to a 2019 University of Maine pilot study involving people with cognitive decline, music training provides cognitive, emotional and social benefits. It’s very stimulating for the brain. In fact, musical memory is one of the last areas to be lost. Resounding Voices was modeled after Giving Voice, a choir for those with cognitive decline in Minneapolis. Currently, there are 35 similar organizations throughout the world, with the number rapidly growing. Listening to or singing music has many benefits for people living with dementia. Not only does it spark memories, it allows a positive and safe environment for individuals to interact with other community members and caregivers.
Each season, Resounding Voices selects eight to nine songs around a theme. The participants have input in the song selections, and some of the pieces are original compositions. Familiar tunes are included, but 20% of the music is brand new, which emphasizes continued learning. “Repetition, routine, rituals and a focus on well-being help participants flourish,” Johnson beams as she boasts of the group’s range. “We perform choral arrangements with a soprano, alto and men’s section.”
“Everyone is passionate and having fun. It’s a great social network. There are no judgments, and all musical abilities are welcome,” Johnson stresses. “Whatever you contribute is beautiful. This is just about making music together. And everyone leaves with a great sense of accomplishment.”
SINGING RAISES OUR SPIRITS
Joel Dunnette, whose wife, Sandra, is battling Lewy body dementia, is one of the original group members. He’s happy for an activity that they can do together. “With cognitive impairment, you tend to hole up, but this gets her out in a pleasant way. Singing really raises our spirits. I feel I have some control, and I am able to get support from others.” He adds, “It’s nice to see my wife having fun.”
Judy Chiodo, a participant dealing with mild cognitive impairment, is grateful for the group. “As a child I loved to dance and sing.” She laughs and announces, “It’s good to know that there’s a lot of life still within me. This brings me hope and clarity.” Volunteer Susan Powell attends in memory of her father who had Alzheimer’s disease. Powell gushes, “Being here is such a gift, and it’s my way of giving back. Tuesdays really are my favorite days. We get to sing beautiful music.”
Join Resounding Voices for their Holiday Sing-Along Concert on Tuesday, December 17 at 10 a.m. at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, 2124 Viola Road NE in Rochester. Familiar carols will be sung along with breaks for traditional Christmas story readings. Attendance is free and festive attire is encouraged.
Practices are held on Tuesday mornings from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at Calvary Evangelical Free Church in Rochester. Registration information is found on resoundingvoices.org.
Maka Boeve, owner of WaveMaker Consulting, LLC is a freelance writer and educator based in Rochester.