This article was published first on LivingWell60Plus magazine
by Jenny Leigh Hodgins
Bringing music to a retirement home is one of the most gratifying ways to be of service during the holiday season. Performing music for seniors has been a rewarding experience for me. Retirement residents were wonderfully appreciative audiences when I performed as a solo vocalist and pianist. Singing original compositions, the standards from the 1930 to the 1960s and familiar holiday songs evoked equal measures of joy, animation and tears from aging audiences.
During my years as a music teacher and chorus director, I led my students in holiday performances at local retirement centers. I wanted to impress on them the idea that musical performance is about communication and making a positive impact on others, not just being in the spotlight.
It was a multi-point learning experience for all. It served as a community service event for young singers. It met the national music teaching standards for providing students practice with musical skills, repertoire and ensemble performance.
Most significantly, it brought holiday joy to the audience of residents and family members. Students received positive emotional responses as they saw how their music affected retirement home residents.
The holidays are a perfect time to reap the benefits of providing musical community service for retirement home residents.
Gather your children and invite their friends and parents. Pull participants from your kids’ soccer, dance or softball teams or talk to your religious or community youth leaders. They may step up to help you organize and chaperone the fun. If you’re not accustomed to being surrounded by a large number of children, have a few adult chaperones by your side. Children need a measure of structure and discipline to balance all the excitement.
Ask the participants for their favorite holiday songs. Depending on your religious background and/or preference, songs may be traditional or secular, incorporating various faiths and cultures and/or blend a bit of each. A quick Google, Yahoo or YouTube search or a look through a music application such as Amazon Music or iTunes or radio sites such as Pandora or Spotify will yield plenty of song ideas. Above all, select songs everyone enjoys.
A fairly new holiday, Kwanzaa, invites the use of African American music, using rhythm instruments such as rain sticks, shakers, djembe and gathering drums. An easy way to incorporate these instruments is to have a few chorus members or even the audience tap the beat during the singing. Jingle bells are another fun instrument to add, but do so sparingly, as a few can overpower voices.
One of my favorite personal holiday music memories was when my parents, brother, sisters and niece were singing and I pushed the drum beat button on my portable keyboard to create a steady loop of rhythm. We started rapping the words to the songs.
This spontaneous idea can be incorporated into any holiday song – just speak the lyrics in the same rhythmic pattern as the singable version. This takes pressure off those who have difficulty matching pitch.
Organize the order of the songs for your performance. Choose enough songs for a 30- to 60-minute concert. Arrange them by tempo, mood, style and familiarity. Once you’ve selected your songs, use a smart phone music app to create accompaniment. Use a portable Bluetooth speaker for added volume. Your group may want to sing a cappella like traditional carolers – without accompaniment. Practice a few run-throughs before your performance. This will reveal pacing issues that may warrant a few tweaks with song order.
Find Your Most Appreciative Audience
If you know someone living in a retirement home, start there or do an online search for local facilities. Call the activity director at each facility and tell them you’d like to bring a group out for a bit of holiday singing fun. Most activity directors are thrilled to have guests visit residents. Encourage the audience to sing along and mingle with them afterwards. The joyful holiday spirit will last long after the last note fades away.
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This piece originally appeared at TheCaregiverSpace.org Listen to the podcast here.
By Jenny Leigh Hodgins
I segued into the role of caregiver for my aging parent quicker than expected. Last year, I left my 30-year career, and sold my Florida home to move back to Kentucky as my mother’s caregiver. I planned to be in place well ahead of need, while I transitioned to working remotely as a freelancer.
1. LIFE’S CURVEBALLS AND SLEDGEHAMMERS
Things don’t always go according to plan. Life hits with big moments whenever it damn well feels like it. Like many adult children, I face the bittersweet reality of being a caregiver to my parent before either of us are ready. I thought I’d have time to ease into the role, but sometimes health issues pop up or wallop like a sledgehammer.
What a wake-up call, being there when Mom is ill, pained face, weak and trembling, incoherent and out-of-it. Alone in that moment, feeling the full burden of being responsible for her well-being can be an enormously scary place. Facing the impending reality of that final chapter in the cycle of life is not for sissies.
The foreign world of medical terms, insurance and co-pays, increasingly hectic medical appointment schedule, and daily living responsibilities can add up to an overwhelming mountain of pressure. I hadn’t anticipated how my own daily rhythm would be derailed, interrupted or flat-out sacrificed at times.
2. GET AHEAD OF THE CURVE
The learning curve comes swiftly, so I’ve found it best to get my game plan in place, and build my life-state to be ready to play. I’ve discovered the importance of taking care of myself. Putting that oxygen mask on myself first enables me to ward against getting overwhelmed or sick, and be better prepared emotionally, spiritually and practically as caregiver.
3. GET YOUR GAME ON
That means I have to protect my daily rhythm. To be effective in my work as a writer and composer, as a caregiver, and more balanced in my wellness, I have to establish ‘me time’. I rise early to pray, eat and have uninterrupted workflow when I function at my best.
I schedule exercise later in the day to maintain my energy. I use my smartphone calendar app to send me alerts so I stay, or get back on, task. Mapping out my own daily schedule and preserving it as best I can keeps me on top of things and less overwhelmed when Mom’s needs arise.
4. PLAN TO BE THERE IN ADVANCE
I’m grateful to have already settled in, so I’m here when Mom needs me. Not having to rush from another state, or even across town, or leave my workplace, is one load of worry off our minds. My being in place takes some burden off my other family members who don’t have the liberty of leaving jobs, children or properties.
5. TEAM HUDDLE
Keeping open communication with Mom and family members about her health, financial and social needs, as well as legal plans, distributes the caregiving load and assures Mom that we are onboard and unified to uphold her wishes. Getting things in place beforehand helps alleviate worry from all. This attempt to keep all in the loop brings us closer in harmony to one another. For the caregiver, that support from family team players is indispensable to peace of mind, providing further strength for the tasks ahead.
6. KNOW WHAT YOU KNOW
Getting to know my mother’s daily rhythm gives me knowledge useful for effective emergency response. Being familiar with her usual mannerisms, daily lifestyle, energy, verbal and cognitive responses makes it easy to recognize when something isn’t right.
Paying attention to symptoms early on allows early detection and an upper hand in maintaining her wellness. Knowing her doctors, appointments, medications, and health issues is powerful ammunition against mishaps, and preventative against health problems that could run undetected.
The role of caregiver can present itself sooner than anticipated, bringing unexpected, new challenges. But I’m finding that having a game plan, a great team that communicates well, a strategy for maintaining my wellness, and tackling challenges with gusto allows me to respond well even to the hardest curveball.
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