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Chorus Connects Patients, Caregivers with Music

by and on October 08, 2019 5:30 AM

A new community chorus is hoping to harness the power of music to enrich the lives of dementia patients and their caregivers.

Sponsored by Juniper Village at Brookline and Penn State’s Center for Pedagogy in Arts and Design, the Good Memories Chorus is open to any member of the local community who is affected by Alzheimer’s disease or early dementia. Dr. Ann Clements, professor of music education at Penn State and director of the Center for Pedagogy in Arts and Design, is directing the choir, which meets at Juniper Village every Wednesday from 6 to 7 p.m. beginning on Oct. 2.

“What’s unique about this is it’s not just a choir for people that may be living with Alzheimer’s or dementia; it is intended to be a choir for those folks and their caretakers,” Clements said. “It’s an opportunity for parents and children to sing together, for spouses to sing together, for friends to sing together. … Music relieves stress, music is a reducer of anxiety and depression, music can calm, not only the people who are dealing with dementia, but also the people who are dealing with dementia externally as caregivers. To have 45 minutes a week where you’re both in the tunes, we’re hoping that rekindles energy on both sides.”

In addition to music’s stress-relieving properties, Clements cited research showing many other therapeutic benefits coming from singing and listening to music, including the fact that musical memories are often preserved in portions of the brain that are not affected by Alzheimer’s disease. Dementia patients are often able to recall lyrics and memories associated with certain songs, long after they have lost many other memories.

The chorus is being modeled upon other similar choirs in the United Kingdom and the United States, especially the Sing For the Moment Choir in Mechanicsburg, Clements said. Each season will include seven or eight weeks of rehearsal and will culminate in what Clements called an “informance,” rather than a performance.

“While a lot of choirs practice, practice, practice for kind of the cherry on the top, which is the performance, that is not the intention of this choir. You don’t ever have to have sung in your life, you don’t have to have any particular skills, you just have to have a desire to make music. Performance is definitely secondary to every other aspect of this choir,” she said. “If folks would just like to come to the rehearsals and not be in the ‘informance,’ that’s perfectly fine.”

The first season will focus on patriotic music.

“We thought there would be a lot of deeply rooted connections to lyrics and emotions tied to patriotism, and it also ties in really nicely with Veterans Day on November 11,” Clements said.

Anyone interested in participating can join the chorus at any time during the season, she said. In addition to dementia patients and their caregivers, Clements hopes volunteers from the community will join in the effort.

“This disease has affected so many families and friendships; we welcome any volunteers who would like to sing in honor of a person they have lost. This is a pleasurable and easy way to give back to the community,” she said.

Juniper Village is located at 1930 Cliffside Drive. For more information or to register, call (814) 235-2041.

This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.

Karen Walker
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