Defying dementia through music. Why concert season is our favorite time of year

photo of dementia chorus members with balloon that says choose joy

“It’s about more than just the music, you know that, right?” Angela Lunde, Co-Investigator at the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, shared these words with a room full of choral leaders at the last Giving Voice National Gathering.  

It’s through the magic of music that we build community, reduce social isolation, and embrace people living with dementia as people and not their disease.  

For Giving Voice choruses and choruses like ours, music is a ton of fun. There is nothing quite like sharing a song. 

But music can be so much more than just fun. Music can provide a sense of purpose. When we sing together as a chorus, we rely on every voice.  

We rely on each other.  

This is why our fall and spring semesters always end with a performance for family and friends.  It’s what makes us a chorus.

As Giving Voice Artistic Director, Jeanie Brindley Barnett, says, “A performance validates and affirms that each and every singer plays a major role. Their talents and contributions are invaluable. 

“Singers view a performance as a gift to their audience.  

“A performance provides the opportunity for singers to share their individual and collective talents.” 

All too often, we make assumptions about people living with dementia. We tend to undervalue not only their contributions to our daily living but also how it feels to be able to contribute. 

In a recent Voices of Aging podcast, Zach Parlier of English Rose, an organization local to the Twin Cities that provides support and care to people living with dementia grounded in “optimizing wellbeing,” talked about how wellbeing comes from the very human need for purpose.  

“We view people, as individuals, to be complex.” 

So simple but true. When you remember that each individual is unique with their own gifts and life experiences, it becomes easier to recognize “that feeling of accomplishment, that feeling of contribution…It’s something that can happen for [people living with dementia], even far into their disease, to feel that sense of purpose.” 

It’s what makes us human. 

English Rose Admissions Director, Marilyn Hartman, told me the other day that “Music is a pocket of joy that allows one to feel connected.”  

We love this sentiment because music is always available, always accessible. And music is an amazing connector. Music is meant to be shared. 

After working hard all semester to learn new music, what better way to feel that sense of purpose than a concert for family and friends? 

So, if you come to a Giving Voice Chorus concert, you should know it’s about the music. But it’s also about way more than just the music. 

It’s about joy. 

As Jeanie says, “A performance provides a unique experience for the audience. They see and hear more than the music. They see and hear pure, unbridled joy and love.” 

Giving Voice co-founder, Mary Lenard, has been known to say, “There’s a spirit that moves into the room when people are there for the joy of it.” 

Joy permeates the room. It’s inescapable. And when you are living with dementia and all of the baggage that comes with that diagnosis, joy matters.

It’s how our choruses defy dementia through music, one song, one performance at a time. 

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