Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Notes from fall sessions:

As I was unpacking, I noticed an odor and asked the ladies if they had had sauerkraut for lunch.  One said they had broccoli, which explained the smell.  She said, "You'll either smell broccoli or carpet glue."  New carpet tiles were installed a few weeks earlier and some had to be glued the day I was there.  Lucky me:  I am so sensitive to chemicals!  I was there for nearly an hour and felt some buzzing in my head when I left.  Once outside, I did deep breathing in the fresh air and hoped for the best.  My fingers weren't working normally when I started playing my next session an hour later, so I mentioned the carpet glue to my group to explain my lack of coordination.  A woman asked if I felt like I had been on a 30 day drunk.  I said, "I haven't been drunk like that."  She said, "I have."

I often have people sleeping during my sessions.  A woman was more alert than usual part way through a session and said, "You girls can take off your shirts now."  Another woman quite definitely said, "No."  I said, "That would be interesting.  How about a jig?"...and started playing.

I noticed a new woman in a recent group and introduced myself.  She moved closer to me to tell me her name.  She said she was moved in by her family while she was on vacation with a friend.  She expected her friend to take her home when they returned to Fargo, but the friend brought her to this memory care facility.  She needed to talk about her story, so I listened.  She said she played piano, and I asked her to play a tune.  She's a good pianist! 

I was beginning a session when a woman walked up to me and said that they needed this space back.  I said I would play some tunes and then they could have the space.  She wanted to know how long I would play and said, "We had school, then this.  We need to get home and rest."  She was quite bothered that I was in the space but then walked away.  I wondered if she taught school at some time in her life, or if she was remembering an earlier time when she had long days as a student.  (At a seminar this fall, I learned that as a person's dementia progresses, they see themselves as younger and younger.  They often don't recognize themselves in the mirror and say there's someone in the room with them.  They might not recognize their adult children, because in their mind, their children are still very young.  They might also confuse an adult child with their spouse, because that child resembles their spouse.  I find this so interesting...)

I wrote earlier about a woman who has been my cheerleader for well over a year.  She has had rapid changes recently and sat at the last session with her head down.  She had no response to the music or our discussions.  It was sad to observe the changes, but I know they are part of the process.  And I know the music still reaches her.

A woman wanted to walk me out after a session.  She began to guide me toward the hallway to her room.  I told her I was going to my car and pointed to the door.  As I was being let out, she wanted to come with me.  She was told that this is her home now, and she seemed fine with that.  As I walked away, I heard her tell L, "She is so cute."

I play in a very large multi-purpose room in one facility.  My group sits in one corner, while residents are active in other areas of the room.  As I was playing, I noticed someone's legs in the air across the room!  The chair was so high that I couldn't see who was sitting in it, but she was doing some exercising as I played.  She spoke loudly when I stopped playing and wanted more music, naming a couple tunes.  I only heard her voice and saw her legs during that session!  It was very odd.

A tenant I've known for nearly two years used to tell me at every session that she played violin and piano.  She would ask about my violin and the case, and she loved singing hymns.  Lately she hasn't been interested in my music at all.  In fact, she recently asked what I was doing there.  When I said I would be playing the violin, she said, "Ick" and walked away!

I was a couple minutes late for a session today, due to detours to avoid waiting for a very long oil train.  When I came up the sidewalk, I was greeted by one of the ladies.  She saw me as I was walking across the street and came out to welcome me.  I remember how surprised she was a few months ago when she recognized me.  She kept saying, "I recognize her!  I know her!"  She likes to sing many of the old hymns and recalls most of the words.  She is usually smiling as I play and sometimes claps before I finish playing!  She is delightful.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Session notes:

A woman who has been in my groups for 16 months was singing words to "I Need Thee Every Hour."  A FIRST!  I played the hymn at the next session, but she didn't sing it.  She did sing parts of a couple other hymns.  She loves to move her arms and "conduct" me while I play, especially on the fiddle tunes!

I announced "Just A Close Walk With Thee" and then was distracted by some conversation within the group.  After a few minutes, someone said, "What about Just A Cheaper Walk With Thee?"  We had a good laugh before I played the song.  Later I kidded her about it.  She said, "Did I say that?"  I assured her she had, and we laughed again before we hugged good-bye.

This woman is my cheerleader in sessions.  She usually says, "We're lucky to have you playing for us."  I respond by saying that I'm honored to play and share music and memories with them.  She also says it's great that they can get together for music like this.

A woman who usually sleeps while I play, woke twice during the last session.  She began watching me the second time and smiled when I smiled at her.  I've been doing sessions there for about five months, and this is the first response I've seen from her.

I don't provide word sheets, because I want the music to prompt memories of the words and things associated with the songs.  After a session, a woman said, "We don't need the words.  The words are in the music." 

At the same session, I mentioned that I had burned out teaching.  A woman told me later, "It's okay, you have the music in you." 

Friday, June 12, 2015

Session notes:

A man who often attends my group is a great piano player.  I've heard him play many times before and after sessions.  He has been unwilling to play for almost a year, but I keep asking!  Recently, he came into the room after I had started my session and began playing piano.  A few women in the group asked him to stop, but he continued.  I was introducing my Hardanger fiddle, so I took it to him and asked if it was okay that I play.  He nodded but kept playing!  He was playing a hymn in Bb, which is the tuning for my fiddle, so I tuned as he played.  I went back to the piano one more time and asked if he would stop once the hymn was done.  He said yes and eventually stopped.  He stayed in the room but kept his back to me the entire session, although I did hear him humming some songs!

I wrote earlier about a woman who folded her hands during "What a Friend."  At subsequent sessions, she has been holding eye contact with me and also watching as I play.  She seems to recognize me as I'm setting up and playing.

I observed a couple cuddling on a sofa near my session last month.  They didn't join us but seemed to be somewhat engaged in the songs.  As I left, they both commented on the music and thanked me.  At my session two weeks later, they joined the group and participated.  I nearly learned some "off color" words to Red Wing from the man, but he stopped after the first line.  I thanked him for not sharing the entire verse!

A woman was quite restless at a session earlier this month.  She got up from her chair several times, sometimes sitting again, other times walking away for a while before returning.  As I played "Love Lifted Me" I noticed her crying and had someone bring a tissue when the song ended.  She is usually very aloof but did respond to my questions.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Music for Memory Session Notes & Background:

I've been playing for elders "officially" since January 2013, when I volunteered to play the Reverie Harp for a friend's group at CH in Fargo.  I added fiddle playing a few months later and learned that people especially enjoyed the dance tunes.  Those tunes led us to talk about their experiences dancing and learning to dance, which led to more conversations. 

I added a monthly memory care group at PS in the Spring of 2013, playing both Reverie Harp and fiddle. 

In August of 2013, I ended my teaching career, having taught Suzuki violin and piano for 34 years.  I concurrently taught fiddling both in my private Suzuki studio and on the Turtle Mountain (ND) Reservation for many years.

I began playing weekly at CH in the spring of 2014, and PS increased my sessions to twice a month by January 2015. 

I launched my Music for Memory business (www.musicformemory.net) in March of this year with a mailing to Fargo-Moorhead area retirement communities and memory care facilities.  Thanks to a friend, my business was featured on the front page of The FM Extra on April 9, 2015.  (www.thefmextra.com)  I sent copies of the paper to my March mailing list and began receiving more requests for bookings.  I am adding two facilities a month.  Yeah!

In January 2015, I was playing at CH and noticed that a woman was bothered by the sound of my fiddle.  I moved across the room from her for the rest of that group in hopes of making it more pleasant.  As I thought about this later, I decided to try playing my octave fiddle in groups.  The octave fiddle is a regular fiddle that has special strings which sound an octave (8 notes) lower than the standard fiddle tuning, putting it in the viola and cello range.  I use the octave fiddle for all my sessions now and find that it is more soothing for listening and easier for singing.  This fiddle was a gift from a student's family many years ago, and now it has new life giving to elders.

I am amazed as I watch people awaken to my music.  Many who are unresponsive begin to move to the music, either their feet or hands or both.  Those who rarely make eye contact begin looking at me as I play.  I send the thought to them, "I see you!" when I observe this.  I know they are being reached through the music.

Yesterday a woman, who had not responded earlier, put her hands together as if she was praying as I played "What a Friend We Have in Jesus."  I watched her hands the remainder of the session, and she only had them in praying position during that song.  Later she began watching me and making eye contact.  "I see you," I thought.  So cool!

In April, a woman did not respond when I asked her name.  I greeted her after learning her name from another woman in the group.  Her head was bowed until about half way into the session, when she began making eye contact with me.  I sent her a nonverbal greeting and watched as she began to move her feet, first her right, then her left, then both feet as I played a reel.  It seemed that she was doing a pattern dance!

I have rhythm shakers that I hand out for people to shake with the tunes, if they wish.  Some of my shakers are old Snuss cans that are filled with pea rock, beans or pellets.  I glue the lids on and wrap the cans with contact paper or clear packing tape.  Someone invariably tries to take the paper off to get the can open, even when we explain why it's not to be opened.  (I don't want to be picking up pea rock after a session!)  Often I'm missing a shaker or two at the end of a session.  They disappear into pockets and purses and are found by aides later. 

In a session today, a woman was sleeping in a chair near me.  I noticed her feet tapping and moving whenever I played fiddle tunes but not during hymns.  I recognized her as the grandmother of two students I taught in the ‘8o’s!

Today the power went out before my last session.  I carried on with the music, and we were all surprised when the lights came on again.  We don't need electricity to have a great session!

When I played "In the Garden" today, a woman and her friend were singing along and swaying with the music.  I was in tears watching the joy on their faces.

I include questions and trivia in each session, and these often lead to reminiscing about earlier times in our lives.  Thanks to ElderSong (www.eldersong.com) I have many books of songs and trivia that help make my sessions more interesting.  The songs are transposed to lower keys, making them much easier for elder voices to sing. 

I started this blog today to help me remember some of the highlights of my Music for Memory sessions.  I'm sure there will be many more entries.  En-Joy!
The Reverie Harp
The Reverie Harp is made by Musicmakers in Stillwater, Minnesota.  I was introduced to this beautiful instrument in June 2012, when a Hospice music therapist was playing one for Mom.  The instrument was left in Mom's room, and I started to experiment with it.  Mom was calmed as she heard the familiar tunes and simple strumming.
I received my Reverie Harp in January 2013 and began playing it for groups.  My instrument has a Celtic Knot insert, instead of the Tree of Life shown here. 
This instrument was designed to be comfortable to hold and is tuned so anyone can play it.  Really!  I have people play my Reverie Harp in some of my Music for Memory sessions.  They strike the strings with a wooden mallet, or move the mallet across the strings.  Some people like to strum the strings as they sing a song.  They enjoy feeling the vibrations of the Reverie Harp as they hold and play it.  The vibrations are calming, and the sounds are soothing.
(I am not making medical claims.  These are my personal experiences and observations.)