At the annual Spring Benefit Brunch in April, Chicago Methodist Senior Service (CMSS) debuted its brand new therapeutic music and wellness program, Sounds of Healing. This innovative program will incorporate individualized therapeutic music into the overall healthcare plans of CMSS residents, helping manage stress, promote healing and enhance memory.
One goal of Sounds of Healing is to partner with more local music organizations and bring their talents to performances and programs at CMSS. At the Spring Benefit Brunch, guests enjoyed a performance from the Civic Fellows of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, who have been visiting Wesley Place and Hartwell Place residents with memory loss for the past several months. As part of the Civic Fellowship, these emerging musicians facilitate projects across Chicago and implement community programs in schools and organizations like CMSS.
The fellows shared with us why they’re part of the program, why they enjoy working with CMSS residents and what the benefits of music are for older adults.
What brought you to the Civic Fellows?
Philip (cello): I had been wanting to move to Chicago for many years, and the Civic Fellowship struck me as a great way to do that. Once I started doing more research into the fellowship, I began to realize how special the program is. There are so few jobs out there that see community engagement and education as their central mission. I feel so honored to be a part of a group that allows me to prioritize those things.
Rebecca (viola): The Civic Fellows keep very busy each season with a variety of community-based musical projects, including songwriting residencies in youth prisons, performing at CPS schools all over the city, regular chamber concerts and more! I was excited about the fellowship because of the huge variety of these projects, as well as the opportunity to create our own community initiatives. I love the work we do; it feels like we are making a real difference in our community, above and beyond a conventional orchestra concert.
Why did you get involved in partnering with CMSS?
Philip (cello): When we began coming up with ideas for this project we were very quickly drawn to music’s ability to help individuals with memory loss. Once we met with CEO and President Bill Lowe, Director of Volunteer Services Ann Brennan and Music Programming Coordinator Henri Harps, their enthusiasm for the organization and for our project told us that we had a great partner in CMSS.
What do you like most about your experience partnering with CMSS?
Queenie (violin): It’s hard to say! But I truly enjoyed getting to know each resident at Hartwell Place, and equally so, working with the amazing staff there. It’s really a wonderful organization and partnering with them and making music together with the residents and their family members has been a very heartwarming experience.
Rebecca (viola): It has been the most lovely experience. If I had to pick a favorite part it would be the friendships we built with the residents at Hartwell Place. Seeing their smiles, singing with them, dancing with them; our Sunday visits quickly became the highlight of our week.
Philip (cello): For me the easy answer here is the residents. We met such incredible people at Hartwell Place. I should mention that working with caregivers at Hartwell was an inspiration for me. Seeing their passion for caring for these residents was a truly beautiful thing.
In your experience, how does music impact older adults?
Queenie (violin): Not only does music provide a part of their day that is stimulating and uplifting, but it’s also proven to be therapeutic. We worked specifically at Hartwell Place because we were hoping to bring music to people with memory loss. Music cannot heal this progressive disease, but it can enrich the community and make their days a little brighter, and that was our goal.
Rebecca (viola): Engaging with music can result in higher cognitive function, decreased depression, and improved quality of life. Some scientists theorize that musical memory pathways in the brain do not deteriorate over time the way language and visual memory pathways do. In our sessions at Hartwell we saw a number of positive responses. Many residents would sing and clap along to familiar songs. Many would smile and some would even get up and dance!
What are you most looking forward to in your career as a musician?
Queenie (violin): I am most looking forward to continuing this kind of work! I thoroughly enjoy playing in classical settings like symphony orchestra and chamber music, but reaching out to local organizations and being able to make such a wonderful partnership and project like this happen has also been incredibly enriching. I am looking forward to not only performing in my career but also to finding ways to give back to the community around me.
We’re excited to see what’s in store for our partnerships with the Civic Fellows of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and other music organizations throughout Chicago. Learn more about music programming and other life enrichment efforts at CMSS here.