“Music is no luxury to [Alzheimer’s patients], but a necessity, and it can have a power beyond anything else to restore them to themselves, and to others, at least for a while.”
(Neurologist Oliver Sacks in “Musicophilia”)
At Choir Retreat in September, I asked our singers to tell each other about the first hymn they remembered hearing (and probably singing!) The choir doesn’t have a lot of opportunities to speak to each other in this way so I was a little nervous about how this exercise would go — I shouldn’t have been:
The participants’ answers to this seemingly simple question were rich and lush with personal history. In many cases, singers related very specific and vivid memories. For me, my first memory of hymn-singing is the sound of my grandfather’s voice belting “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” at Easter services. He was loud and enthusiastic, especially when we got to the “ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-le-lu-ias.” And I remember how his singing changed by the time he was a nonagenarian — My grandfather might not have been able to see well or remember any of the particular lyrics, but those “Alleluias” were still full of joy and enthusiasm as ever. These memories are incredibly vivid in my mind.
Music can awake long forgotten pasts. Something comes on the radio or speakers and quite suddenly we are transported back in time. Has this happened to you? Have you ever been transported by music to a memory of an event or moment that you hadn’t thought about in years?
Have you ever intentionally used music to elicit memories? To comfort yourself with what emotions and recollections a song evokes? Or perhaps you have used music to remember information — I still sing a song I learned in kindergarten every time I need to remember the order of the colors in the rainbow. Music is a powerful memory tool!
Music and memory are tied together in ways that I suspect neurological researchers are only beginning to understand. However, we have known this connection intuitively for a long, long time.
In recent years, researchers have given specific attention to the power of music for Alzheimer’s patients and others whose memories have been affected by illness and injury. The 2014 documentary Alive Inside won the Audience Award for documentary at Sundance and chronicles the power of music to “wake up” Alzheimer’s patients and to “restore them to themselves, and to others, at least for a while.”
In brief, Alive Inside follows social worker Dan Cohen and others who provide simple music therapy to Alzheimer’s patients. The organization Music & Memory provides patients with customized iPods loaded with music that provides some relief from their symptoms. I encourage you to watch the entire documentary or at least take six minutes to meet Henry and witness his coming to life through music. Check out the rough cut here.
Because we have all been around music in some form or another, research indicates that most of us already contain musical memories that are so strong and powerful that they can withstand the storms of this debilitating and isolating illness. But why wait? How can we tap into these musical memories right now?
Every Sunday, 9:00 am: Adult Choir Rehearsal, in the Sanctuary
We rehearse from 9:00 am – 10:15 am on Sunday mornings (except “Morning Song” Sundays, see below) and occasionally have additional rehearsals for special occasions (like Christmas, Music Sunday etc.) Adult Choir is intended to be a welcoming group that includes people of many different musical experiences. And, unlike singing in a community choir outside of church, the songs we sing have a very intentional and vital role in morning worship. If you’ve ever been curious, just come try it out! Or talk to Tara or a choir member.
First Sunday of Each Month, “Morning Song”, in Sanctuary
On the first Sunday of each month (unless otherwise noted) the Congregation meets for 30-minutes of singing meditation beginning at 9:30 am in the Sanctuary. We will immerse ourselves in a few short, meditative songs with minutes of silence in between. Some of the songs will be familiar, some will be new. Some of the songs will be unaccompanied, and some will be accompanied by cello. To participate, you are absolutely not required to sing, but all voices are welcome – middle school age and older.
(Information is posted on the CALENDAR page)
Please check our Calendar or speak with Tara (musicdirector [at] melroseuu [dot] org) with any questions regarding assisting the Children’s Choir or your children joining the choir. When scheduled, rehearsals are 12:00 pm – 12:20 pm in the Sanctuary. Please check the calendar page.