Gathered in the Wintergarden atrium of Baycrest’s Apotex Centre Jewish Home for the Aged, Buddy’s Glee Club kicked off its concert with a rousing rendition of the song Getting to Know You.
They then moved on to a long list of golden oldies, from ‘Who Could Ask for Anything More’, ‘Oh What a Beautiful Morning’ and ‘Hava Nagila’ to the ‘Anniversary Song’, ‘Side by Side’ and ‘This Land is Your Land’ before wrapping up with Hanukkah songs.
Many in the audience sang and clapped along during the concert Wednesday, Nov. 27.
The choir was actually two Buddy’s Glee Clubs joined together, both made up of Baycrest clients with cognitive impairments.
One of the choirs also included family members or caregivers.
They are both part of groundbreaking research at Baycrest looking at the benefits of singing on health and wellbeing in seniors who have cognitive problems such as dementia.
One study is investigating not only the benefits of singing, but of singing with a loved one, said music therapist Chrissy Pearson, who directed the choir.
“Every single week, we see people come in asleep or sleepy and as the music starts and toward the end (of the practice), they’re always awake, smiling and engaged, active and participating,” she said.
“I can’t think of one session where that wasn’t the case. I haven’t had a session where someone slept through the entire session. Music is a wonderful way to catch attention and keep them engaged. We also see people becoming more expressive. Flat faces become smiling faces or laughing faces.”
Those advantages often last hours after choir practice has ended, Pearson said.
The benefits may be even greater for the seniors joined by loved ones.
“We also see great interaction between the family members and the residents. So, they chat between songs about memories or share a hug or read the lyrics and find their place,” Pearson said.
“They can’t remember where they are or who their daughter is sitting next to them, but they know all the words to the songs and they can sing the words without any confusion or any wondering what they are doing. You can see it’s clear in their mind, ‘This is the song and I’m singing,’ and that creates the connection between mother and daughter. She may not remember the daughter’s name but she is singing to her and smiling to her and showing that connection.”
Monty Mazin, who had the audience clapping along as he sang a solo version of ‘Grey Skies’, joined the glee club with his wife, Blema, who has dementia.
“Blema has a background in music. From the age of eight, she was a child prodigy on the piano. Her short-term memory is gone but she retained her music and it’s just a joy for me for her to have her in the choir and remembering the tunes and singing,” he said.
“Throughout life, I’ve loved music. It’s important to cheer people up, no matter how bad conditions may be.”
Rebecca Hoch, 102 and a resident of Baycrest’s long-term care home, enjoys being in the choir, especially for the camaraderie, although she acknowledged her singing voice isn’t what it once was.
“Meeting with all the people together, we are all friendly with one another and that is what you need when you are older. We’re all a team,” she said.