Singing to the Living

Felt so moved today and I have to share my thoughts. I took some students to a local retirement village. We were there to sing.

We learned that this place was a place you came to but did not leave – constant care needed and palliative care for the dying. The environment was full of light, air and space. The staff were clearly full of care and empathy.

“Moods that take me,
and erase me.”

So off we went. In the first lounge we met 5 elderly people in varying states of mobility, all bright eyed and smiling so we introduced ourselves and sang. Billy – the only man then present – kept saying how wonderful the music made him feel. Beatrice, a gracious and elegant Indian woman gushed with alternating phrases “darling, darling, so beautiful, god bless! bless you, darling girls”. Betty never spoke a word but squeezed hands as we left. Harriet wiped away a quiet tear (as did our much younger host) and Lydia didn’t say a word or make eye contact – but remember her name……

We moved to a private room where friends Lisbette and Shanti were eager and ready -eyes welled, and compliments were given. While the students sang I commented to our host Aria about the gorgeous crochet blanket in the room and whisked around a corner to see the cupboard full of hand knitted and crochet rugs made by current and past residents – it really moved me. Something so tangible, so much time invested, therapeutic colour and created by generous creative spirits.

Along the corridor, another private room, Thomas, Ian and Ethyl were ready to listen – they clapped and even tried singing along with cooing tumbling quivering voices. Inspiring someone to take part even from the confines of a bed – Ethyl was full of gusto. It was then that I noticed Lydia was keeping up with us using her walker and quietly sitting within hearing distance of each room.

Off to the bigger lounge where 10 residents were waiting, a mix of verbal and non-verbal, men and women, able bodied and dementia patients. I sat next to Olive who instantly held my hand only letting go when we moved to he next room. Oskar was a beaming, chuckling bundle of delighted laughter who kept checking we were alright? And gentle Louisa stroked her soft toy cat and sang along barely audible.

“Take this sinking boat,
and point it home,
we’ve still got time.”

There were beautiful people in each room, some eager to communicate and some almost silent and without reaction. Joseph was being visited by his wife – she was visibly moved as he tapped his toe and as we departed he said “that was medicine”. Lydia was still there – but pretending not to be.

We sang to Elsie who was unconscious and not expected to live long, she didn’t open her eyes and barely moved but a smile flickered across her face more than once. Lydia kept up.

Finally we we went to the final room where Millicent was doing the crossword in her bed. She was lucid and full of eager chatter and questions. Somehow we all squeezed into this room and participated in the song – even Lydia was joining in sitting on her walker chair at the door. Millicent was insistent on giving us 2 chocolate hearts from her bedside table as a thanks and noted that we did songs the students loved and “not old songs – I don’t like to look back – I want to look ahead”.

Finally we were taken to the dining room for cake and cordial where Charles regaled us with his knowledge of manners and pedagogues (all his family being teachers). Oskar who had chuckled with delight earlier caught us up to check if we were alright, and to pocket a couple of biscuits and a sly glass or three of cordial. Lydia was there quietly in the corridor too.

All of this in only an hour a so many notable moments and feelings experienced by everyone involved. I shed a tear, the supervisor did too, and many of the listeners. But most of all – as well as the village feeling grateful for the entertainment/therapy – the most rewarded people just might have been the musicians (and their teacher) who saw the power of music.

The power of music and the transferral of emotion in the musical moment, transformation in a space of physical challenges.

“You’ve made it now,
falling slowly sing your melody,
I’ll sing it loud.”

All names have been changed.

All lyrics from FALLING SLOWLY by Glen Hansard.

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