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Community Adviser:
Special concert is testament to power of music
by Charles F. Seymour, Times Community Adviser
05/26/2005

We were somewhat deflated, even a little disappointed, when we filed into the Towne Hall wearing our dark suits, white shirts, red ties and cummerbunds, ready to sing a special concert for the residents of Monticello, our assisted-living and skilled-nursing facilities. There were only about 40 people there, and we were used to singing to full houses.

After all, we had sung the national anthem for 35,000 people at the Philliesí ballpark on Memorial Day, and enjoyed a full house of more than 250 people in this same Towne Hall for a concert only about a week earlier.

The Riddle Village Menís Chorus consists of some 26 "independent living" residents ranging in age from 75 to 92, with an average of just over 82. Twenty-five of us are veterans of military service, ranging in previous rank from corporal to major. Several have decorations, and most have campaign ribbons with two to four battle stars. We have 20 bachelorís degrees, four masterís, two law degrees and one Ph.D. We proudly claim 58 children, 91 grandchildren and 36 great-grandchildren.

Our talented conductor/pianist is Ruth Fisher, who studied at the music school of Wheaton College, and was a church organist in Springfield and Middletown before moving to Riddle Village. Her handwritten arrangement of the national anthem rejects the modern trend to convert it to gospel, soul, rap or be-bop at the whim of the singer.

She follows the traditional melody, while adapting her harmonies to the ancient voices with whom she is laboring. She taught us that "perilous" is pronounced "per-ill-us," not "per-ull-iss." And she drilled us on the importance of pronouncing all the consonants, particularly at the end of each word.

But, back to our special concert.

Included in our sparse audience were several old married couples holding hands -- the healthy one from independent living and the spouse from nursing care, slumped over and not communicating. It was very moving.

Not only was the audience sparse, but a lot of them seemed to be "asleep." We have learned that this is not unusual for those who suffer from such maladies as stroke, Parkinsonís or Alzheimerís. So why did the nurses bring them to our concert?

After "The Star-Spangled Banner," we sang three sea chanteys. There was polite applause from those who were awake, but a lot were still asleep. But when we moved to some lively, popular songs, they began to stir. And when we closed with songs of the military services, many started to tap their feet and try to sing along.

One "inactive" Marine (there are no ex-Marines!) suffering from a severe stroke tried valiantly to get out of his wheelchair and stand at attention when we sang "From the Halls of Montezuma."

Therapists say that two things sometimes pierce through the veil of memory loss: Spirited, familiar music and affectionate pet dogs. We use both at Riddle Village.

Those of us who provided music therapy via the Menís Chorus that day started our special concert disappointed. But we left exhilarated. We had, at least for a few moments, broken through some very tangled pathways and communicated with a few of our silent, old friends. It was, indeed, a very "special" concert.

Now we appreciate, even more, the power of music!

Charles F. Seymour is a retired real-estate executive and member of the Daily Times Community Advisory Board.

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