Most of the time, the best thing anyone can do to help somebody else is simply to encourage them. You never know how far it could go.
That very thought occurred to Glenn Durham a few months ago while he was walking through The Laurels. As a member of the personal care home’s board of directors, it’s been his habit to visit with people there.
During one of those times, something perked up his ears. He heard people singing. So as he walked down the hallway and got closer, he saw who it was — a few residents enjoying their time together singing.
They had made a habit of joining each other in some familiar old hymns, maybe a few Christmas carols during the season and quite often a little karaoke during their scheduled group activity sessions.
According to Freda Green, who manages the facility’s activity program, residents have been singing as a regular activity for quite some time but nobody ever made much more out of it than that.
Durham jumped in with an idea. Being a veteran of Baptist church singing, he decided to join them and then, like a shepherd who organizes and nurtures a flock, he began to recall some more hymns with them, directing practice, adding more voices — quickly building a choir — albeit one without any music except the songs everyone could glean from their own memories.
“I thought they sounded really good and they are having so much fun, I just want to encourage them as much as I can,” Durham said. “You can’t deliver good news often enough.”
Music has been called “the soul’s own language.” It has proven to be an effective method for recovering from brain injury, to lessen the effects of dementia, reduce pain, improve speech and sleep patterns in children, increase motor function in people with Parkinson’s disease and even reduce the occurrence of asthma episodes.
While research scientists, psychologists and medical practitioners all recognize that people greatly benefit from music, they don’t really understand exactly how or why.
They do, however, see the results. Like these:
• Singing builds relationships and community in the sense that it brings people together, body and mind, to make music in common purpose;
• Physically it’s good exercise for the diaphragm muscle and developing more breath control; and
• Psychologically, it attracts attention that is both wanted and needed.
According to the American Psychological Association, when people are singing, they focus on what they are doing and being fully present in the moment. Because it’s nearly impossible to think about other things while singing, in that sense, it’s is a great relief for people and a welcome distraction from their daily burdens.
One of the choir’s members, Dawn Barger, agrees.
“It’s just relaxing,” she said. “Music makes us feel good. When we sing, people here will stop and sing along with us while they’re walking by.”
A fellow choir member, Willa Short, said she most appreciates the time she can spend together with the group and agreed that singing improves everyone’s mood.
“The songs are very uplifting,” she said. “Whether I am having a bad day or there is some problem, at the end of the day we all just feel better.”
Right now the group of 12 to 15 residents gets together twice per week during their activity sessions. A few employees join them when they are available.
They also look forward to those special times each month when Mr. Durham comes by to encourage them to try something more, or just new and maybe even different. For example, in late February they opened a meeting of The Laurels board of directors with a few songs.
“Mr. Durham has just been very encouraging to everybody,” Green said. “He’s a God-send. We love him.”
No one doubts that music moves people’s feelings, whether it’s the music itself, a recalled memory associated with music, or just some idea in the lyrics. Together they elaborate on the meaning and symbolism, touching hearts in the process.
And that’s how Durham said he most benefits and why he wants to encourage more people to join in.
“They tell me all the time how glad they are to be together and much they are enjoying themselves,” he said. “We have one who just laughs all the time while we’re singing together because she’s just so happy. It doesn’t get any better than that.”