Watching music wake people up


Scott Allen Jarrett, center, with some of the residents of Compass in Hopkinton

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.

Our mini-chorus

Our mini-chorus

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.

How can you keep those resolutions going?

Happy New Year!

For many, coming out of the dark time of the Winter Solstice and into the New Year is a time of renewal. After the excesses of the holidays, we look back at the year behind us and make promises to ourselves. This year, we say, we’ll be better. Stronger, fitter, thinner, richer. We’ll pay attention to our loved ones more, we’ll meditate every day. And often, it isn’t too long before those resolutions fall by the wayside, and we’re back to our old habits.

Synergists believe that our habits are a result of messages that are deeply embedded in our bodies. Just as we learn the most basic things – walking, running, driving – through repetition and muscle memory, so other things get embedded in our bodies. Our habits become, as it were, automated. These habits can be positive: people who make a habit of running in the mornings, for example, often report the automatic feeling of getting out of bed, getting their gear and shoes on, going out the door and letting their feet take them, regardless of the weather. But if you’re like many of us, you probably recognize negative habits more easily: your hand reaching into the potato chip bag while watching a comforting TV show, or raising your voice when someone you love does that annoying thing you hate. Recovering alcoholics sometimes talk about the way their bodies would stand up, walk to where they kept their liquor, open a bottle, pour a drink, and begin sipping it, all without thinking.

Our bodies are excellent at automating processes: it’s why most of us don’t have to think about how to walk every time we walk to the kitchen, nor how to drive to our workplaces when we’ve been driving there every day for more than a month. Unfortunatey, though, this automation means that we can end up living lives that are largely *unconscious*: we get up, eat, go to work, raise our families, all without thinking. We get stuck in habits that harm us: we drink too much, or eat junk, or ignore our loved ones, or cheat on our spouses.

Many clients I see come in with the question, “Why do I keep doing this thing, when I know that it’s bad for me and makes me feel awful?” By teaching them to listen to their bodies’ messages, I help them to move out of their unhealthy habits and into *choice*. When you begin to listen to your body, to really pay attention, you can find the triggers for those automated processes – and short-circuit them. Even more than that: you can learn to program new, better habits into your system, so that you can make those resolutions stick.

If you’re interested in making a change, contact me for a free phone consultation, or make an appointment. I look forward to keeping in touch throughout a renewing, transformative 2014!