Category Archives: the facts

Diversity & inclusion & why we shouldn’t be indifferent to difference

Life would be boring if we were all the same. Living in the most culturally diverse state in Australia, as Victorians we are encouraged to be inclusive and tolerant of everyone, and to show respect for aspects or characteristics in a person perceived to be different to our own.

Diversity and inclusion are important components of a healthy, happy and effective society where everyone feels recognised, valued for who they are and able to contribute, irrespective of their background, religion, ethnicity, language etc.

Over the coming weeks, this blog will take a closer look at the ongoing work done by Community Music Victoria to promote diversity and inclusion in our music making communities, with focus on two particular projects:

1: The SINC program (Singing for Inclusion) A series of workshops run by Community Music Victoria in partnership with Creativity Australia to train singing leaders in running inclusive singing groups.

2: Voices of Peace: a project to empower recently arrived and settled refugees from Assyrian Chaldean background to establish a Women’s Choir though which to build and strengthen connections and to reduce the pain of dislocation and loss sustained through the persecution they have endured.

As a prelude to these posts, we felt it worthwhile to re-visit what is meant when we talk about diversity, and inclusion.

Diversity:

According to good old google, diversity is ‘The state of being diverse or ‘a range of different things.’

Through its very essence, diversity is not restricted and defies definition.

While the most obvious and noticeable points of diversity in people such as age, race, gender, and other physical attributes are external, you can never assume anything about a person simply by looking at them. Avoid stereotyping at all cost.

Non-visual or invisible diversity covers a plethora of factors, issues and circumstances that are not seen readily and can only be ascertained if that person choses to share them with you. Again, never judge a book by its cover, and be prepared to ask people about themselves in an open, direct and empathic way.

Put simply, diversity means there is a point of difference.

Global Diversity Practice UK states: “Diversity is about empowering people. Fundamentally, diversity means respect for and appreciation of differences in age, gender, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, education, and national origin that are implemented by laws and policies…

…the power of diversity can only be unleashed and its benefits reaped when we recognise these differences and learn to respect and value each individual irrelevant of their background.”

Which brings us on to the other side of the coin: inclusion.

Inclusion:

We each carry a diverse and unique set of cultural beliefs, experiences and attitudes which define us. Inclusion is the practise of allowing our individual differences to be recognised and socially accepted. It is about being welcomed into a situation and feeling fairly and equally treated for the person you are and not judged on your religion, origin, age, gender, marital status, etc.

Inclusion is vital in creating a rich and stable environment where shared learning leads to strength and cohesion and one in which people can thrive. It is about creating what Community Music Victoria refers to as ‘a free and fearless space’ in which everyone has the capacity reach their full potential because they feel genuinely included, supported and valued. It requires a commitment to the process of continued learning, and in this respect is a journey for us all with a number of positive outcomes.

“Inclusion is a sense of belonging: feeling respected, valued for who you are as an individual or group; feeling a level of supportive energy and commitment from others so that you can do your best… Inclusion is a shift in an organisation’s mindset and culture. The process of inclusion engages each individual and makes people feel valued which is essential to the success of the organisation. Individuals function at full capacity and feel more valued and included in the organisation’s mission. This culture shift creates higher performing organisations where motivation and morale soar.”  Global Diversity Practice UK 

In its 2016-2020 Diversity and Inclusion Strategy, the Victorian Government writes “Inclusion makes us stronger, exclusion makes us weaker…

diversity and inclusion enables us to grow our understanding and find new ways of doing things.”

In a fully inclusive society, diversity is embraced and celebrated as opposed to shunned, feared or stereotyped and the potential and opportunity for connection is greater. Through seeking to understand and educate ourselves about difference, we can move forward more cohesively and, in doing so, create a rich and varied society where commonality and difference co-exist happily, where people feel safe to share their backgrounds and culture whilst retaining the practice, beliefs, characteristics and traits which make each of us so delightfully unique.

Three ways to immediately be more inclusive:

  • Don’t make assumptions about an individual
  • Think before you speak: Understand how what you say and do impacts on others
  • Recognise and celebrate diversity

Article by Deb Carveth, Online Editor, Community Music Victoria

References and further reading:

Global Diversity Practice UK

Victoria State Government Diversity and Inclusion Strategy 2016-2020. Download a copy here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Singing aids the sound of silence for snorers

cris-saur-122006.jpg
photo by Cris Saur

If all you crave at night is the sound of silence, encouraging somebody who snores to sing for their supper could be the key to a peaceful night’s sleep, and the clip below will be music to your ears. We know from experience that an interrupted sleep pattern impacts negatively on concentration levels and increases the likeliness of accidents and mistakes during our waking hours.

Snoring can also lead to loss of friends if we’re putting up enough zeds to disrupt the sleep of others on a regular basis, and when we’re tired, we become more susceptible to illness so the ramifications of this nocturnal behaviour can be detrimental to the general health and well being of everyone in the fall out zone.

Having first hand experience of a partner who snored, British community choir director and composer, Alise Ojay, designed and created a set of simple singing exercises, Singing for Snorers, focussed on strengthening the soft tissues of the palate and the upper throat, specifically the pharyngeal muscles which, like any other areas of the body, grow slack without exercise.

Sorry folks, it’s true: even your epiglotiss needs a work out. But don’t lose heart at this point, because it’s where the good news begins: Epiglottal flaps don’t require tread mills or gym memberships to start shaping up. All that’s required is for the soon to be proud owner of the pharyngeal muscles to open their mouth and sing, making the sounds ‘ung’ and ‘gar’ a practise Alise Ojat refers to as ‘giving the whole snoring apparatus a work out.’

Alise, a member of the Natural Voice Practitioners network, undertook her initial research to determine whether singing exercises could in fact be used as a non-invasive treatment to increase muscle tone in the tissues of the throat in 2000, as an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Exeter. A clinical trial followed in May 2013 involving a study group of 93 patients who completed a self-guided treatment programme of singing exercises, performing from a 3CD boxed set for 20 minutes daily.

The findings of the trial concluded that use of singing exercises to strengthen the throat across a period of three months  contributed significantly to a reduction of snoring pollution in the atmosphere. It demonstrated that singing holds real potential to improve the health and wellbeing not only of snorers, but the quality of life for their partners and housemates, too:

“The Epworth Sleepiness Scale  improved significantly in the experimental group compared to the control group. The frequency of snoring also reduced significantly in the experimental group and loudness of snoring showed a trend to improvement…” The research write up concluded:

Improving the tone and strength of pharyngeal muscles with a 3 months programme of daily singing exercises reduces the severity, frequency and loudness of snoring, and improves symptoms of mild to moderate sleep apnoea.”

So if you’re living with somebody who snores, or if you suspect that you are susceptible to it yourself, try frequent singing exercises (and singing more frequently!) as an early approach to addressing the issue and set to work on achieving a set of buff pharyngeal muscles: they’re understatedly sexy and guaranteed to make you better off in bed.

A list of singing groups across Victoria can be found on the groups page of the Community Music Victoria website to assist you in your mission and a link to Alise’s Singing for Snorers exercises can be found on the CMVic online repertoire resources page. Let us know how you go!

Reference: Singing Exercises Improve Sleepiness and Frequency of Snoring among Snorers—A Randomised Controlled Trial

Written by Deb Carveth, online Editor for Community Music Victoria

 

Jamming beats books: How music making with toddlers can enhance their development

The next time you sit down to read to a toddler, consider popping that ole book back to its place on the shelf for a while*, and playing some homemade music together instead. Over time, the long term effect of your action might just make the world a better place to be. Research from the University of Queensland conducted over two years on more than 3000 young children showed that making music with toddlers could have even more of a positive impact on their development, than sharing a story. And lets face it, banging on pots and pans is loud and fun for everyone (especially the neighbours, who will love you).

All_Ensemble_Tanya_boy (2)

Findings from the study, ‘Being and becoming musical: towards a cultural ecological model of early musical development’ (2013–2015) indicate that early involvement in music participation has the capacity to improve numeracy, increase attention and assist with the development of prosocial behaviour and skills which, being the opposite of anti-social skills, are therefore beneficial to the good of society as a whole.

Professor Margaret Barrett, head of University of Queensland’s School of Music and a key leader in the study funded by the Australian Research Council, claims that “Children who experienced more frequent parent-child music activity at two to three years showed stronger vocabulary and numeracy skills, more prosocial skills and stronger abilities to regulate their own attention and emotion at four to five years old….The study highlights that informal music education in early childhood is a vital tool for supporting the cognitive and social development of children.”

Read the full article ‘Jamming with Toddlers trumps Hitting the books’ published on the Medical Xpress website here

*But be sure to come back to the book later on. Balance in all things, and all that…

Article by Deb Carveth based on information found in ‘Jamming with Toddlers trumps Hitting the books.’ Published by Medical Xpress. September 2015

Singing calms baby longer than talking

Credit: Tobias Koepe, flic.kr/p/e3Capa
Credit: Tobias Koepe, flic.kr/p/e3Capa

In a new study from the University of Montreal, infants remained calm twice as long when listening to a song, which they didn’t even know, as they did when listening to speech. “Many studies have looked at how singing and speech affect infants’ attention, but we wanted to know how they affect a baby’s emotional self-control,” explained Professor Isabelle Peretz, of the university’s centre for Research on Brain, Music and Language. “Emotional self-control is obviously not developed in infants, and we believe singing helps babies and children develop this capacity.” The study, recently published in Infancy, involved thirty healthy infants aged between six and nine months.

Humans are in fact naturally enraptured by music. In adults and older children, this “entrainment” is displayed by behaviours such as foot-tapping, head-nodding, or drumming. “Infants do not synchronize their external behaviour with the music, either because they lack the requisite physical or mental ability,” Peretz explained. “Part of our study was to determine if they have the mental ability. Our finding shows that the babies did get carried away by the music, which suggests they do have the mental capacity to be “entrained”.

Read the full article from the University of Montreal website, here…

Breast Beaters – an innovative idea that became a reality

by Jeannie Marsh

My friend Bev McAlister was diagnosed with breast cancer a few years ago. She got through her surgery and radiotherapy, frequently making the long trip from her home in the Dandenong Ranges outside Melbourne to a hospital in the city for treatment. Of course this was an exhausting and challenging time. When Bev was told after her treatment that she should now do daily exercises for lymphoedema, she simply could not get motivated.  So she came up with an idea to help women get motivated to add this important activity to their lives: Breast Beaters.

Bev’s vision was this: set the exercises to lively music; add some singing and light-hearted activities; make a DVD so people could do it at home (alone, or with family and friends); run regular group sessions at local community venues, where women could meet others who had been through breast cancer, do the exercises together, have a laugh, have a chat, have a sing, have some fun.

As a singer and community arts worker, I thought this was a great idea. So, through Dandenong Ranges Music Council we applied for funding, were successful, and before I knew it I was Musician in Residence for Breast Beaters! Twelve months later, the vision has become a reality – the DVD was launched at a lively event in Lilydale on 26th of June 2015; the first Group Session has been run in Yarra Glen, and the DVDs are being distributed to health professionals and women living with breast cancer.

Gorilla graphicDuring the research and development phase of Breast Beaters, I worked with lymphoedema therapist Maria Stirling (Health Consultant on the project), and consulted with other health professionals working in the field. Guitarist Ken Murray and I worked together to create a 15-minute Medley of 9 songs (ranging in style from bossa nova to waltz, twist, and Celtic), each song matched to the timing and needs of the exercises. In the Medley we included deep-breathing exercises (used by both lymphoedema therapists and singing teachers) and “singalong” sections for easy singing. This material was trialled for six weeks by a small group of women living with breast cancer in the Yarra Ranges region, and responses were encouraging.

In addition to the Medley, the DVD includes teaching material, voice-over and subtitle features to help people learn the Medley, and delightful animations (including a dancing gorilla) to give people a laugh. We also trialled Group Sessions, and learnt that these will be an extremely important part of the program. Group Sessions will occur at least once a month, in a range of community venues, and will be informal, fun, and accessible. Sessions will last 90 minutes, and will be suitable for women new to the program, and those familiar with the program. They will be led by community choir leaders (or others with similar skills) who have received training about lymphoedema and Breast Beaters. Sessions will include learning and participating in the Medley, simple group singing activities, cup of tea and chat, and information about relevant events or resources.

Further funding was recently awarded by Yarra Ranges Council to run a series of 8 group sessions and these will run from October to December, in community venues across the region. Free copies of the DVD will be distributed at these sessions. The schedule (and other resources) can be found on the Dandenong Ranges Music Council website www.drmc.org.au  Please contact me for all enquiries, and to obtain a free copy of the DVD.

We are proud and excited to have created a new resource for women living with breast cancer, and for their health professionals, families and friends.  May the joyful breast beating and singing begin!

Adapted from an article for newsletter of the Lymphoedema Association of Victoria, August 2015

By Jeannie Marsh 

DRMC Musician in Residence, Breast Beaters  health and music program jeannie.marsh1@gmail.com   0432 088 284

Researchers discover the anatomic reasons for the persistence of musical memory in alzheimer patients

For anyone witnessing the degeneration of a person affected by the later stages of Alzheimer’s, it can be baffling but extremely heartening to witness their response to music and songs from their past.

This phenomenon has been well documented with singing and music therapy incorporated increasingly into care programs. But, until very recently, no scientific explanation or evidence has been available about how and why this should be.

In a recent study using MRI scans to show brain activity, neuroscientists have been able to locate the precise area of the brain where our musical memories are stored. In doing so they also realised that in a brain affected by Alzheimer’s, this ‘musical storeroom’ appeared more resilient to other degenerative effects of the disease.

Reading the article below, first published by Medical Xpress, two things spring to mind. One is the importance of remaining active music makers to build and maintain strong neurological pathways, and the second, based on concern about a particular mental store room where the shelves are cluttered with guilty pleasures from the 70s and 80s, is to expose ourselves to a wide variety of as much good music as possible, while our brains remain healthy.  Read the article 

Seeing in tune

Musicians don’t just hear in tune, they also see in tune.

By David Salisbury

150626SeeintuneThat is the conclusion of the latest scientific experiment designed to puzzle out how the brain creates an apparently seamless view of the external world based on the information it receives from the eyes.

“Our brain is remarkably efficient at putting us in touch with objects and events in our visual environment, indeed so good that the process seems automatic and effortless. In fact, the brain is continually operating like a clever detective, using clues to figure out what in the world we are looking at. And those clues come not only from what we see but also from other sources,” said Randolph Blake, Centennial Professor of Psychology at Vanderbilt University, who directed the study.

Scientists have known for some time that the brain exploits clues from sources outside of vision to figure out what we are seeing. For example, we tend to see what we expect to see based on past experience. Moreover, we tend to see what our other senses tell us might be present in the world, including what we hear. Read more

NB: The Community Music Victoria model of teaching doesn’t rely on a person’s ability to read music and follow dots. In singing leadership, for example, we involve a hand, raised and lowered to demonstrate changes in pitch, creating a visual soundscape which is inclusive and easy to follow. It would be interesting to know how that kind of cognitive association with music applies in the context of these findings.

How the brain reads music: the evidence for musical dyslexia

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Could dysmusia be to reading music what dyslexia is to reading text, and dyscalculia is to math? Sheet music via http://www.shutterstock.com.

By Jennifer Mishra: Associate Professor, Music Education at University of Missouri-St. Louis

Music education in the western world often emphasizes musical literacy, the ability to read musical notation fluently. But this is not always an easy task – even for professional musicians. Which raises the question: Is there such a thing as musical dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a learning disability that occurs when the brain is unable to process written words, even when the person has had proper training in reading. Researchers debate the underlying causes and treatments, but the predominant theory is that people with dyslexia have a problem with phonological processing – the ability to see a symbol (a letter or a phoneme) and relate it to speech sounds. Dyslexia is difficult to diagnose, but it is thought to occur in up to 10% of the population.

In 2000, Neil Gordon, a retired pediatric neurologist, proposed the idea of musical dyslexia (dysmusia) based on growing evidence that the areas of the brain involved in reading music and text differed.

The idea that dyslexia could affect the reading of non-language symbols is not new. For instance, dyscalculia is the difficulty reading and understanding mathematical symbols. Recent research supports dyslexia and dyscalculia as separate conditions with unique causes (dyscalculia is thought to be caused by a deficit in spatial processing in the parietal lobe). If the brain processes words and mathematical symbols differently, why not musical symbols too?

Music’s written system

Western music, like language, has a highly evolved coding system. This allows it to be written down and transmitted from composer to performer. But music, unlike language, uses a spatial arrangement for pitch. The page is divided into staffs of five lines each. Basically, the higher a symbol is placed on the staff, the higher the pitch.

Unlike letters in text, pitches can be stacked, indicating simultaneous performance (chords). Music also uses a system of symbols to indicate how pitches should be played. Symbols can indicate duration (rhythm), volume (dynamics) and other performance cues. Music also utilizes written words to indicate both the expressive features of the music and the lyrics in vocal music. Lyrics may be in languages not spoken by the performer.

Due to differences in the physical features of the written systems, it makes sense that the brain would read music and text differently. This appears to be the case – at least to some extent.

Text and music reading in the brain

In the brain, reading music is a widespread, multi-modal activity, meaning that many different areas of the brain are involved at the same time. It includes motor, visual, auditory, audiovisual, somatosensory, parietal and frontal areas in both hemispheres and the cerebellum – making music reading truly a whole brain activity. With training, the neural network strengthens. Even reading a single pitch activates this widespread network in musicians. While text and music reading share some networks, they are largely independent. The pattern of activation for reading musical symbols and letters is different across the brain.

Brain damage, especially if it is widespread, as was the case with the composer Maurice Ravel, (perhaps best known for Boléro, will likely impair both text and music reading abilities. Ravel had a form of frontotemporal lobe dementia.

However, there have been cases where a more limited brain injury impaired reading of one coding system and spared the other.

Ian McDonald, a neurologist and amateur pianist, documented the loss and recovery of his own ability to read music after a stroke, though his ability to read text was unaffected. Oliver Sacks described the case of a professional pianist who, through a degenerative brain disease, (Posterior Cortical Atrophy), first lost her ability to read music while retaining her text reading for many years. In another case, showing the opposite pattern, a musician lost his ability to read text, but retained his ability to read music.

Cases where music and language seem to be differently affected by brain damage have fascinated researchers for centuries. The earliest reported case of someone who was unable to speak, but retained his ability to sing, was in the 1745 article, On a Mute who Can Sing.

More recently, the Russian composer, Vissarion Shebalin, lost his language abilities after a severe stroke, but retained his ability to compose. Maintaining the ability to sing in the absence of language has led to the creation of a therapeutic treatment called “Melodic Intonation Therapy” that essentially replaces speech with song. This allows the patient to communicate verbally. These cases and many others demonstrate that music and language are to some extent separate neurological processes.

Differences in reading ability can occur even within musical notation. Cases have been reported where musicians have lost their ability to read pitch, but retained their ability to read rhythm, and vice versa. fMRI studies have confirmed that the brain processes pitch (spatial information) and rhythm (symbol recognition) differently.

Musical dyslexia

The research starts to imply how a specifically musical dyslexia could occur. This deficit may be centered on pitch or musical symbols or both. No conclusive case of musical dyslexia has yet been reported (though Hébert and colleagues have come close) and efforts to determine the effects of dyslexia on reading musical notation have been inconclusive.

Children in western cultures are taught to read text, but not always taught to read music. Even when they are, inabilities to read music are not generally treated as a serious concern. Many gifted musicians are able to function at a professional level purely learning music by ear. Among musicians, there is a wide range of music reading proficiencies. This is especially apparent with sight reading (the first performance of a notated piece). Identifying musical dyslexia could help explain why some musicians read well and others don’t.

This article appears on the Community Music Victoria  blog courtesy of The Conversation (under Creative Commons-Attribution/No derivatives)

http://theconversation.com

Rhythm and Hum – The instinct to create and respond to rhythm is universal.

The instinct to create and respond to rhythm is univeral

The instinct to create and respond to rhythm is universal. A heavy bass sound vibrates our vessels and moves our being, quite literally; we are 60% water, after all. In his book, ‘Bug Music’, David Rothenberg writes: “all of human social interaction can be seen as a swirling journey through overlapping senses of rhythm.”1 Somebody in my house will tap or drum on anything that comes to hand and at times it’s like living with an infestation of termites, but more about that later.

 Rhythm and drum patterns have been woven into the fabric of life since the dawn of time. For some cultures, drumming holds great historical and symbolic importance that transcends music making for music’s sake. It was used as a highly effective form of communication, conveying messages for miles across open terrain, way, way WAY before anyone had heard of radio or twitter being used to broadcast news.

In the 1830s, European colonialists visiting countries in Africa wrote of their amazement at discovering that their arrival and movement between tribes and communities was rarely unexpected with the news having been broadcast ahead of them using drum telegraphy, at speeds of up to 100 miles an hour. (160km/h) 2

During the same period in Europe, the most speedy form of communication was the Chappe Telegraph which transmitted signals via a system of flags based on semaphore and compared with the efficiency of the African drumming patterns, dragged its heels in delivering messages at a measly 47km an hour.3

When Africans were captured and forcibly removed to the British and French Caribbean, West African talking drums 4 were banned by the slave traders and plantation owners who were confused and undermined by their inability to decipher and decode the complexity of the rhythms used by the Ghanaians and Nigerians to communicate with each other. There was fear that the drums could be used to incite rebellion among those held in captivity and cause an uprising.

 Of course, humans aren’t the only ones to use rhythm and beats to inform, warn and convey messages between each other. The insect world is rife with rhythm, and David Rothenberg argues that “as humans, we got our ideas of all things rhythmic and percussive, from the world of insect sounds that surround us: “the rhythms of insects bind us to the landscape, the warm waft of early autumn, a smile at the season’s march… and the most important thing about them is that they may be the very source of our interest in rhythm, the beat, the regular thrum.”5

Returning to Africa, there is a species of fungus-growing termite (Macrotermes natalensis) that live in the Savannah where they build huge turreted mounds from the red sand to conceal vast complex networks of far reaching underground tunnels. These lead to the chambers where they cultivate their food source and must be protected.5

Like most insect communities, there is a hierarchical structure in place and soldier termites are stationed to stand guard over these sandy empires. If a hungry aardvark or other threat to the mound is perceived, the soldier termites bang their heads into the ground at a rapid rate of eleven times a second causing a vibration capable of travelling a whopping 40 centimetres. Continuation of the signal is conveyed in a rippling Mexican wave effect as other soldier termites pick up the vibe and adopt the rhythmic head banging.

In this way, the vibration conveying the message of danger spreads at a rapid 1.3 metres a second along the tunnels, worker termites return to their stations back inside the mound and through this inimitable use of rhythm, their little metropolis continues to function and its population exists, unscathed.

While the use of rhythm by termites is arguably not community music making in the strictest sense, it stands as an effective method of communication, is vital in maintaining a sense of cohesion and is integral to the survival of the colony, so in essence, it isn’t far off the mark. And the vibrations created carry on, rippling into the ether and imperceptibly influencing the movements and biorhythms of us all.

If you would like to find out more about drumming and percussion classes near you, check the CMVic website

Written by Deb Carveth,CMVic Online Editor

Sources:

1: ‘Bug Music’ How Insects gave us Rhythm and Noise by David Rothenberg. Published by Picador, 2013. P 109

2: The Times Literary Supplement: The life of information, from drums to Wikipedia, by Ernest Davis

3: ibid

4: The ‘talking drum’, heralds from West Africa, specifically Nigeria and Ghana. Shaped like a wooden hour-glass with a head at each end connected by strings running down the length of the body end and a tapered centre, the talking drum is played with a curved stick to mimic the tone, inflection and cadence of human speech. It was used originally to communicate messages between villages.

5: ‘Bug Music’ ibid. p2

5: New Scientist: Headbanging termite drummers sound the alarm by Linda Geddes, 07 August 2013

http://streamafrica.com/culture/culture-of-africa/

http://afrykaconnect.pl/index.php/blog/110-the-talking-drum

http://www.the-tls.co.uk/tls/public/article760768.ece

http://www.johnhearfield.com/Radar/Chappe.htm

http://www.african-drumming.com/african_drums.htm

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn24006-headbanging-termite-drummers-sound-the-alarm.html#.VEhDRIuUddg

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/355483/Macrotermes-natalensis

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sub-Saharan_African_music_traditions#West_Africa

 

Music as a ‘reminiscence tool’

MusicReminis2

My grandfather would have been 90 on Saturday had he not passed away from complications caused by dementia, at the age of 89. We lost him gradually as his mind depleted like the slow undoing of a complex jigsaw.
Some days, he’d be bright as a button and we’d have renewed hope for some sort of hiatus. Other days, he recognised nobody, was unable to feed himself, had forgotten how to chew. One of the things he responded to continually throughout his illness, were songs from his youth and early adulthood, which seemed to act as prompts or keys to temporarily unlock parts of his memory.

 The use of music as a ‘reminiscence tool’ is widely recognised by professionals working to support people with Alzheimer’s, and research has been conducted to gain a better understanding and insight into the extent to which it can help.

In 2013 at the Society of Neuroscience Conference held in Chicago, Associate Professor Dr Jane Flinn from George Mason University, USA, presented findings from a study that concluded ‘people with dementia who took part in regular singing sessions showed improvements in their brain function.’1

Flinn’s study involved 45 people aged between 70-99 living with moderate to severe dementia. They were divided up into groups of singers and groups of listeners, attending three fifty minute singing sessions each week at their care home, over a period of four months. They were given a range of familiar material from shows, including Somewhere over the rainbow, The Sound of Music and When you wish upon a star.

What set this study apart wasn’t the evidence that listening to music improves well-being and imposes a state of calm, it was the marked difference between outcome for the participants who listened and those who actually sang throughout the course of the study. At the outset, patients were tested to determine their levels of cognitive ability and life satisfaction, and ratings were not dissimilar across the group. By the end of the study an obvious shift had occurred and in re-tests, the singers’ scores were significantly higher, suggesting that through regular singing, brain performance among dementia sufferers is enhanced.

Dr Flinn’s colleague, Linda Maguire who co-lead the study, summarized the findings as …”showing that participation in an active singing program for an extended period of time can improve cognition in patients with moderate to severe dementia..”2 Following the study, Dr Flinn suggested “that care homes that did not hold group singing sessions should consider them because they were cheap, entertaining and beneficial for patients with Alzheimer’s”3

With more of us living longer there is increasing susceptibility to the cruel, debilitating dissolution of ones self and ones memory. In Australia a person is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s every six minutes and it is estimated that a further 1.2 million people are involved in the care of somebody suffering from dementia.4 . Had we known to encourage my grandfather to participate in regular singing sessions from the onset of his disease, he may have been able to increase his defences and shore up his sea walls to keep the eroding waves of dementia at bay a little longer.

1:As cited in Dementia News for Alzhiemer’s Australia by Ian McDonald Dec 02 2013
2:The Independent Newspaper, Monday 11 November 2013
3:Ian Sample, Science Correspondent for The Guardian 13.11.13 http://www.stat.ubc.ca/~rollin/teach/550w13/SingingAlzheimers.pdf
4:Source: Alzheimer’s Australia

For information, advice and support about Alzheimer’s contact Alzheimer’s Australia.

To find a singing group near you, contact Community Music Victoria

Written by Deb Carveth
CMVic Online Editor