The Gift of Holiday Music
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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