Music Magic at an Elder’s Home

A friend of mine is away for a month and asked if I could visit her elderly mom with another friend of ours, Michelle, at a care facility every week.  Phyllis is the elder’s name.  Michelle calls me up and says, “Hey, why don’t you bring your drum?  Phyllis likes music.”  I’d never met the lady before and didn’t know what to expect as she’s got Alzheimer’s.  My 92-year-old grandma also has Alzheimer’s and I know it presents differently in people.  So, off I went on this adventure.  Well, Phyllis was quite the hoot and not afraid to speak her mind without a filter. In a world where most of us are trained to measure our words and emotions carefully, it was actually quite refreshing!  The first thing she did was lead us to some chairs that were around the corner away from all the action.  After a while of chatting about all the men in the home that she thought were trying to get into her pants, I brought out my drum and asked her if she had any favourite animals.  She mentioned a dog but seeing as I don’t know any dog songs, I asked her if she’d settle for a coyote song.  She replied with, “Ahooooooooooo.”  Now that’s the spirit!  So I started the coyote song, which, funny enough, starts similarly to Phyllis’ imitation.  Her eyes lit up as she listened and sang.  She kept saying that she couldn’t sing.  I told her that was a bunch of hooey- anyone with a voice can sing regardless of what society says.  I knew she was in her 80s so I sang some spirituals and jazz numbers.  Although she didn’t remember all the words, she knew the tunes and hummed along.  I had read an article a while back that talked about songs and music being the last thing to go in Alzheimer’s patients; it is incredible to me that we seem to be hardwired for this.   I found out later that she spent a lot of time in her life singing and even recorded an album!  Just as we were finishing our last song, several old folks had managed to wheel themselves down the hallway towards the music. When we turned the corner, I noticed they were themselves humming and singing.  I was blown away at this. I mean, I’d spent years singing for homeless people, elders, and children during my years with the Universal Gospel Choir as part of our outreach series.  I’ve witnessed the power of music many times: homeless people singing spirituals from the depths of their souls with tears streaming down their faces and children dancing a jig right in front of the choir while reaching for an elder’s hands to come dance with them.  I think what blew me away was the attentive and euphoric look on these peoples’ faces.  When the music stopped, they went back into their inner worlds.  Rather than being sad about that, it left me once again with the feeling that music- singing specifically- is an untapped resource for health in our culture.  No instrument can express feeling and the human experience like the human voice.  It can stop us in our tracks as we marvel in wonder, bring tears to our eyes, remind us of things we know, bring joy and help us feel connected with each other and the universe. Some cultures have this down pat.  I loved being in Scotland this summer where singing and dancing and playing instruments is all a part of get-togethers.  In Africa, music, singing, and dance are a part of all their gatherings- a way of life.  As a kid, I used to sing more than I spoke as a way to express myself and relieve tension in my body.  I remember fantasizing about life being a musical, creating great scenes in my imagination. What if people sang and danced through life instead of speaking words?  How would that change the world for the better? I used to think that was a whimsical childhood wish but this visit to the elder home has me re-thinking that….

My Grandma and I on her 92nd Birthday

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Singing Lady Hawk
    Mar 09, 2011 @ 19:28:29


    Thank you, thank you, thank you! This brought tears to my eyes, knowing that in my absence you and Michelle were able to bring my Mom joy, no words could ever express what this means to me. Not to mention my Mom.
    Yes, Mom made a record in her youth, not an album I think but a 48, which were all the rage those days. She was an excellent yodeler as well.
    I think we should talk to the home about maybe singing for the whole gang and see what happens…what do you think?
    You are an angel my dear, sent directly from heaven to light our lives and I love you!
    The article is great, ca I have permission to share it with my siblings?

    With humble gratitude

    Janice (Singing Lady Hawk)


    • jenniferengracio
      Mar 09, 2011 @ 21:19:53

      I think singing at the home is a great idea…. Share the article as you wish…..

      Look forward to seeing you on Sunday!

      Love Jen

      “Disorder is merely the order you were not looking for.” ~ Henri Bergson


    • Jen E
      Mar 09, 2011 @ 21:20:49

      And thanks for sharing more information about your mum’s singing past!

      Lots of love,


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