Hitting the High Notes

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Hitting the High Notes

Reflection on Psalm 92:1-4

It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to the Most High. It is good to proclaim your unfailing love in the morning, your faithfulness in the evening, accompanied by a ten-stringed instrument, a harp, and the melody of a lyre. You thrill me, Lord, with all you have done for me! I sing for joy because of what you have done.

Amazing things happened on Sunday mornings at Serenity Village and Rehabilitation Center.1 Nearly everyone on the memory care unit had some form of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. As chaplain intern, I was responsible for assisting with the weekly worship services. It didn’t take me long to realize that the outward listlessness of some of the residents did not necessarily match what they were thinking and feeling inside.

I became acutely aware of this one Sunday morning during worship. The liturgical team had just read the scripture and prayed. Then we began to sing a hymn. One of the residents, who I initially thought was sleeping, began to smile. I knew then that he had been able to make a connection with what was being said and done during the service. Although this resident was not able to vocalize lyrics, he derived some pleasure from the music.

The deeper I delved into the matter, the more I became aware that spirituality, faith, and religious rituals seemed to be necessary for the overall well being of the Alzheimer’s patients at Serenity.  Based on some research I had read, I believed that music tended to calm them down, alleviate their depression, and stimulate recollection of past events. I was also convinced that music therapy could reduce wandering and restlessness and increase chemicals in the brain that promoted sleep and eased anxiety.

Not only that; I noticed that music tended to awaken long dormant, but deeply embedded, memories. On another day when I was in the break room sitting with several residents who were listening to old hymns on the intercom, many of them appeared to be relishing the songs they heard. As I saw their faces light up, I asked, “Do you know this song?” In response, residents who hadn’t said a word in weeks responded haltingly with their recollections. They called up their stories in detail replete with descriptions of people, places, and circumstances, depending on their ability to express themselves verbally.

To my surprise, Mr. Crenshaw’s feet began to keep time with the rhythm. The heads of the other three residents who shared the table with us also began to bounce to the beat. Smiles brightened faces, and mouths flashed yellowing teeth as the mood changed in the common area. Different musical selections were played throughout the morning while CNAs went about the task of caring for those who had only these familiar songs to awaken memories that had been dormant for too long.

Prayer

Amazing God, thank you for the gift of music. Amen.

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