Music & Memory would like to thank our incredible community of dedicated volunteers who submitted their stories for our first annual volunteer contest in honor of Volunteer Appreciation month. We were blown away by the incredible feedback! Congratulations to our winner, Ruthie Milgard, the Artist Director of the San Diego’s Children Choir! Here is her submission.
I am the Artistic Director of the San Diego Children’s Choir. Before I moved to San Diego in 2014 I lived in New York City and attended what I believe to have been the first screening of Alive Inside in 2011 or 2012. My personal connection with memory loss was with my grandma who lived with dementia for over 10 years. Towards the end of her life I happened to be looking with her through her wedding album from 1945 and saw the sheet music from the song played at their ceremony. I began singing it, and she chimed right in, words, melody, rhythms and all. It was a magical moment the two of us shared, and she was clearly proud to have been able to remember the words when she was at the point where she was regularly frustrated with her struggle to remember names and relationships of family members.
As a choir director, I knew I wanted to connect somehow with the organization, so three years ago I contacted Music and Memory for the first time with my intention of collaborating. Last fall began what I hope to be many years of a wonderful relationship with a local facility, Vi at La Jolla Village. We have performed there twice now for the memory care residents, and are on the calendar for a workshop and performance this June where I’ll present to caregivers and family members the benefit music and singing have on the brain, and on how to effectively sing with loved ones who have memory loss.
Music and Memory taught me the importance of a personalized playlist, which is obviously difficult when performing for an entire room. This year I took the average age of our audience members and selected popular tunes from the years that they would have been in their late teens through thirties, which left us with things like the musical South Pacific, various Cole Porter tunes, etc. At our upcoming workshop for caregivers and family members I plan to distribute a survey asking questions about loved one’s favorite songs/songwriters/genres/musicals for us to program in our upcoming season.
In the future I’m hoping to program concerts that involve memory care residents as performers with our young people, and even have monthly or weekly singing sessions with my high schoolers and the memory care residents.
While we know music and singing are beneficial to the brain for those with dementia and Alzheimer’s, these experiences have been equally as beneficial for my high school students. Debriefing after each performance with my singers could last for hours with each student sharing about a connection they had with a particular audience member. Following each performance, our gracious hosts at Vi at La Jolla Village typically hold a reception, which allows my high schoolers to interact more intimately with memory care residents (which has involved them serenading individuals [see the attached picture], or being asked to refill a cup of hot cider). Few of my students interact with those with memory loss. Most of their great-grandparents have already died, but their grandparents are typically still too young to have reached this stage. Now they have the tools to see what they can do with and for their loved ones when they do reach that stage.
I’m thrilled to have begun this relationship with Music and Memory, and can’t wait to see what the future holds!