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How music helps seniors' brain health

Saturday Martin McConnell 2:00 p.m. CT March 12, 2017

Sarah Martin

(Photo: Submitted)


STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Opinion: What better place is there for seniors to live more musically than in Music City, USA?
  • Sarah Martin McConnell is the founder and current Executive Director of Music for Seniors.

Have you always wanted to play an instrument or sing with a group? Well, do not delay!

It turns out that active engagement in music making tops the list for enduring benefits for your brain's health.

When I heard Nina Kraus, who is an audio physiologist at Northwestern University, present her cutting-edge research at the National Center for Creative Aging's Global Conference and Leadership Exchange in Washington, D.C., this past fall, I knew this would be a game changer. Over the next 18 years, 10,000 individuals will turn 65 every day in the U.S. and all of us baby boomers are searching for proven ways to keep our brains active and nimble.

In fact, whether you enjoy music, painting, writing, sculpting, quilt making or line dancing, the positive benefits older individuals gain from active participation in all creative arts activities are at the heart of an exciting international movement called "creative aging."

The benefits do not stop at the brain gain. Shared creative activities help to connect you to other like-minded individuals in your community while also providing an important and satisfying outlet for your own personal creative expression.

What better place is there for seniors to live more musically than in Music City, USA? That is exactly why Music for Seniors, a Nashville-based nonprofit arts organization, is celebrating its 10th anniversary with an exciting new intergenerational program: Live program Learning Labs at Nashville Public Library.

Learning Labs started in March and is challenging beginners and experienced participants alike, to learn ukelele, percussive arts and group singing in eight easy, weekly one-hour sessions. Instruments will be provided for loan and each Learning Lab series will culminate in a final public program event in the downtown library auditorium.

A driver, caregiver, child or grandchild is encouraged to participate with their senior friend or family member. Through the generous support of dedicated sponsors and community partners, the only cost to participate is each student's commitment to attend.

These Learning Labs are free and open to the public. The series will be offered each spring and fall in a variety of instruments. But space is limited, so seniors and their companion participants will be admitted on a first-come basis.

Visit www.musicforseniors.org for details and registration, or phone (615) 330-1937.

Make 2017 the year you start living more musically.

Active participation in music makes big difference for seniors

Mary Hance , Ms. Cheap 7:06 a.m. CT March 13, 2017

Piano

(Photo: Submitted)


Music is one thing most seniors agree that they enjoy.

So when Music for Seniors founding director Sarah Martin McConnell was presented with some "inspiring" research about the positive effect that making music has on seniors, she was determined to find a way to offer more interactive musical opportunities as an extension of her 10 year old free Music For Seniors program.

Now in addition to offering musical outreach, a free monthly concert series at various locations, Music for Seniors has organized a new inter-generational daytime "Learning Lab" program at the Nashville Public Library. The "Learning Lab" encourages older adults to "live more musically" by participating in music making activities.

Beginning March 16, the Live Performance Music Learning Labs will offer three separate groups that will meet in eight week series to offer ukulele, percussion arts and group singing. They will meet from 10-11 a.m. on Tuesdays for group singing, and on Thursdays for ukulele and percussion. The sessions are free but you need to register at www.musicforseniors.org or call 615-330-1937.

McConnell said she learned of the encouraging research at a recent international conference on creative aging where Nina Kraus, an audio physiologist from Northwestern University, talked about how "active participation in music making" results in "brain gain" for seniors.

"Beginners to seasoned performers are welcome to participate at no cost in weekly one hour sessions, and then perform in a public concert in the library's auditorium later in the spring," said McConnell. Participants can bring their own instruments or loan one from the library, thanks to instrument donations from Lanikai Ukuleles and Remo drums.

McConnell said,"Creative art activity is a great way to have fun, stay connected, and keep our brains sharp. The library has been wonderful and we are so appreciative of the support (through grants) from the Community Foundation and the Metro Arts Commission. We plan to continue offering labs each spring and fall."

"What better place is there for seniors to live more musically than in Music City?" McConnell said, noting that caregivers, family members and others are invited to participate along with their senior friends.

Reach Ms. Cheap at 615-259-8282 or mscheap@tennessean.com. Follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/mscheap, and at Tennessean.com/mscheap, and on Twitter @Ms_Cheap, and catch her every Thursday at 11 a.m. on WTVF-Channel 5's "Talk of the Town."

The Music For Seniors Free Daytime Concert series lineup

March 15: 10:30 a.m. Nashville Opera's Mary Ragland Young Artists, at Nashville Public Library, 615 Church Street.

April 13: 10:30 a.m. Soul Choir at Looby Theater, 2301 Rosa Parks Blvd.

May 6: 2 p.m. Blair Children's Chorus Chorale, at Rutland Place Senior Community, 435 NW Rutland Road, Mt. Juliet.

To RSVP, email sarah@musicforseniors.org or call 615-330-1937.

Music for Seniors offers live music, free concerts

Mary Hance , mscheap@tennessean.com Published 11:00 p.m. CT Aug. 1, 2014 | Updated 11:04 p.m. CT Aug. 1, 2014

Piano

(Photo: Submitted)


If you have a senior in your life — especially a fragile senior or one who could use a little joy and some free interactive musical fun — you need to know about Music for Seniors. The program offers more than 50 live musical programs a month for seniors and a free public concert every month.

The force behind these wonderful Music City senior moments is Sarah Martin McConnell, a musician who came up with the idea after performing regularly for an adult day-care program that her mother attended and seeing how much of a difference the music made to "mom and her pals" and to herself as a caregiver.

McConnell — who is a songwriter and plays piano, guitar and dulcimer — said the goal and purpose is simple: Music for Seniors is all about "sharing live music, and lighting up lives." I first met McConnell five or six years ago when she brought a night of wonderful music to The Cumberland, where my mother lived in the memory care unit.

The music — McConnell's evening and the music provided by other musicians at The Cumberland and other end-of-life places Mother lived in her final years — was an amazing bright spot. It was almost like the music enabled Mother and many of the other residents to return to their old selves, despite their dementia and other impediments, and smile, tap their feet, sing along. Some even danced.

It was a transformation, albeit for just a little while, through the live music.

My mom and McConnell's mother are gone, but I have been following McConnell's Music for Seniors program with great interest because I saw what a difference the live music could make, not just to the seniors but to their caregivers and the other people who love them, including me.

So it is exciting for me to see Music for Seniors' own transformation from a small outreach program affiliate of Fifty Forward with a handful of musicians performing monthly music, to an ambitious standalone nonprofit that offers large monthly senior public concerts (free), as well as dozens of more informal, and very interactive performances every month for seniors — with hand clapping, singing along, taking requests, even sometimes throwing in a little "Hokey Pokey" fun.

"It can clearly make a difference," said McConnell, who referenced a study that said that even in the late stages of dementia, people can participate meaningfully using rhythm and dancing, including drumming.

McConnell said all of the Music for Seniors performers are in tune with the need to make their programs super interactive.

There are more than 200 local musicians who participate, with about 50 "regulars" who perform as many as 70 one-hour outreach programs a month at senior centers, independent and assisted living communities, nursing homes, dementia care units, community centers and even for homebound individuals.

Among the regulars are John England, Holly and Barry Tashian, Craig Duncan, Kira Small, Lady Corder Chapman, and John Arnn. The musicians are paid a small stipend, but their participation is clearly in the spirit of community service.

The Tashians, who sometimes bring as many as four other musicians with them, said their participation is "definitely not for the money." Holly Tashian said not only does her group enjoy interacting with the seniors, but also "it is really fun to play these songs" like "Mr. Sandman," "Near You" and "Don't Blame Me."

Now that Music for Seniors is its own 501(c)(3) nonprofit, McConnell aims to expand the concept statewide and beyond.

"What we do is unique. No one is doing live music outreach for seniors. I see this as a model for other cities. Music truly is the universal language. Its power to heal and restore and to connect older adults with caregivers, loved ones and memories cannot be overstated."

So if you are a senior or are a caregiver or have friends or loved ones who could benefit, shoot Sarah an email or call to get in on one of her programs that share live music, and light up so many lives.

Stay cheap!

Reach Ms. Cheap at 615-259-8282. Follow her at www.tennessean.com/mscheap, at Facebook.com/mscheap and on Twitter @Ms_Cheap, and catch her every Thursday at 11 a.m. on WTVF-Channel 5's "Talk of the Town."

About the program

Music for Seniors provides as many as 70 outreach performances a month for senior centers, adult day services programs, retirement communities, nursing homes, memory care providers and home-bound individuals, as well as one large free concert monthly.

Free concerts coming up:

Aug. 11 at 10:30 a.m. with Connye Florance at the Nashville Jazz Workshop, 1319 Adams St.

Sept. 16 at 1:30 p.m. with Journey of Faith vocal quartet, at Fifty Forward Donelson Station, 108 Donelson Pike.

Oct. 15 at 10 a.m. with Roy "Futureman" Wooton presenting Mozart and the Gospel at East Park Community Center, 601 Russell St.

These are all free, but they ask that you make a reservation. For reservations or to request a performance for a senior group, call 615-330-1937 or contact Sarah McConnell at sarah@musicforseniors.org

For more information, visit www.musicforseniors.org

The benefits

Music is increasingly used to treat a long list of conditions, including depression, autism, stroke and brain injury. Researchers are also looking at how music can benefit those with Alzheimer's since at least anecdotally there is evidence that music can tap memories, reduce anxiety and increase social interaction.

See these articles at The Tennessean

Sarah Martin McConnell, Executive Director

Sarah Martin

Sarah founded Music for Seniors in July, 2007. Under her leadership, her original concept, to enlist area musicians for live music outreach to older adults, has grown into a thriving 501(c)3 arts non-profit organization. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Texas, Austin, Sarah earned her Bachelor of Arts cum laude in 1974. She earned a Master of Science, Social Work degree from the University of Tennessee, Nashville, in 1999. A professional musician, singer and songwriter since 1976, Sarah's accomplishments include solo performer as well as lead vocalist with various jazz and pop bands performing in Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles and Nashville. She garnered national commercial credits as jingle singer and SAG/Aftra actress and was twice featured as a "New Folk Artist" at the Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas. Sarah's songwriting credits include: Must I Fall (Walter Hyatt, "Music Town," Sugar Hill Records) and The Standoff and Reach for Me (Walter Hyatt, "Some Unfinished Business," King Tears Music). In 1984, she founded the for-profit company, The Caroling Troubadours, furnishing distinctive seasonal entertainment to retailers, hotels, corporations and private parties and at one time operating in four cities, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles and Nashville. As an independent contractor paralegal from 1986 through 2011, Sarah performed legal support work encompassing a wide variety of duties for firms in Dallas, Houston and Nashville, including the Nashville firms Neal & Harwell, Gullett Sanford Robinson & Martin, Baker Donelson and HCA Corporation. Between 1997 and 1999, Sarah worked as the first Program Director for Magdalene, directing day-to-day operations and program development and implementation for this Nashville non-profit which houses and serves women in recovery. In 2004, Sarah was certified as a Rule 31 Family Mediator.

In August, 2005, Hurricane Katrina blew Sarah's 84-year-old mother, Marge, (then recently diagnosed with mid-stage Alzheimer's) from the Mississippi Gulf Coast to Nashville, changing forever the course of Sarah's personal and professional life by inspiring the launch of Music for Seniors.

Contact information:
sarah@musicforseniors.org

Matt Bridges, Program Director

Matt Bridges

Matt is Music for Seniors' newest staff member. A Nashville-area native, he joined us in 2013 as a performer. Matt offers a unique, handson and interactive "Rhythm Session" program which he facilitates for communities throughout Tennessee, including for children and adults with intellectual and developmental challenges. Focusing on the universal concept of natural rhythms in our everyday lives, participants play percussive instruments from around the world. Matt holds a B.A. in Counseling and Human Services from Lindsey Wilson College, Columbia, Kentucky, completing internships with Alzheimers Association of Middle Tennessee and Elmcroft Senior Living, in Lebanon, Tennessee.

Contact information:
matt@musicforseniors.org

Performer Spotlight: John Starbuck

John Starbuck

Music For Seniors enlists numerous Middle Tennessee performers, and we take great pride in ensuring that our communities have talented and, just as importantly, friendly performers. This month we are featuring one of our most often requested performers, John Starbuck! Here's a little interview with John.


-) Hey John, tell us how long you've been working with Music For Seniors

Approximately three to four years.

-) How does performing for seniors groups differ from more "traditional" audiences?

Seniors aren't that different from traditional audiences but each senior community is unique. Most folks seem to appreciate many styles of music. I try to focus on popular standards but also welcome spontaneous audience requests.

Seniors often appear to be more appreciative of music than other audiences. And that might be because they have more of a personal history which they attach to songs from the past.

-) What are your favorite songs/styles to perform for senior communities?

My favorites are Broadway and film tunes, country, and popular songs. I generally try to mix things up so that there will be something that will appeal to most everyone. As our seniors are getting younger with their cultural icons, (Elvis would have been 80 this year) the songs they request are also newer. Years ago I would get requests for 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s standards. But now, more residents want Sock Hop Elvis, country standards by Patsy Cline, Broadway songs by Andrew Lloyd Webber, and newer songs from Disney films. For me, being an instrumental performer, the best songs are those that have memorable melodies and rhythms and work just as well without vocals.

-) John, we get such great feedback from our communities in regard to your wonderful approach. Can you tell me about an observation you've made as a result of "Sharing live music, Lighting up lives"?

So many people tell me how much music means to them. Many have specific memories about particular songs and what they associate with them. Even senior residents who don't have the mental capacity they once had often respond with smiles and bright eyes--signs that they still recognize particular songs. This is what makes it all worthwhile for me.