Local Music Service for Seniors Expands
When you're a person living in an elder care facility—like a nursing home or retirement home—life can sometimes feel very lonely. Simple things—like hearing your favorite song from back when you were a teenager, or hearing a love song that was played at your wedding sixty or seventy years ago—can bring a rush of happy emotions and be a bright spot in your day. For people struggling with memory loss, including Alzheimer's, music can also be therapeutic. For people living with dementia, hearing a favorite song from "long ago" can trigger memories and bring moments of connection and happiness.
Mary Sue Wilkinson, founder of Singing Heart to Heart, has witnessed the power of music first hand. The inspiration for her work and her focus on using music in dementia care began when she recognized the impact music had on her father-in-law who had lost all language due to dementia. “You couldn’t have a conversation with him but when I took my guitar and sang the old hymns he knew and loved – he could sing every word and even added harmony.”
Wilkinson’s company, formerly known as Young at Heart Music, was started in 2013 and provides group sing alongs and personalized music visits to area senior communities and individuals. Since that time Wilkinson has single handedly led over 400 sing alongs and music experiences each year, singing thousands of songs. Now, she's happy to announce that the Singing Heart to Heart team is growing, with three new musicians joining the team. This will enable Singing Heart to Heart to bring the joy of music to even more seniors in the region. Wilkinson notes “With the addition of three new team members, Singing Heart to Heart has more than doubled the number of sing alongs and music experiences we can provide. We currently serve 18 care homes, independent living communities and private clients on a weekly basis and visit many other locations for special occasions.”
Wilkinson is the author of “Songs You Know by Heart: A Simple Guide for Using Music in Dementia Care” and she specializes in working with people living with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. Wilkinson notes, “Not all of the people we sing with have dementia or memory loss, but all of the new team members will have specific training with me about using music in dementia care.”
Wilkinson comments, “There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease or dementia and over 5 million people in the United States are affected by it.* Until there is a cure we have to look for ways to improve quality of life.” Wilkinson points out, “Research is showing that music is one of the
most powerful tools for doing just that.** And for those who are not dealing with memory loss it’s a meaningful and fun activity that creates community and can be enjoyed by all. More and more senior communities are beginning to understand this and want to offer it to their residents.”
With a smile Wilkinson notes, “There are only so many songs I can sing in a day! And by bringing more musicians on board I will be able to devote more time to the other projects I’m working on, including videos, a new CD and a Tool Kit to help staff in senior communities learn to use music in care.”
Joining the Singing Heart to Heart roster of musicians are Miriam Pico, Peggy Pierson and Frank Youngman. Each bring a wealth of experience working with people of all ages and all are professional level musicians. Wilkinson adds, “It takes a certain person to do this type of work. It requires a high level of musical expertise but it also requires sensitivity and an open heart. I chose Miriam, Peggy and Frank because they all have what it takes to connect with others. They all know it is not just about entertaining – it’s about engagement.”
Meet the New Team Members
Miriam Pico is an award-winning singer/songwriter, but it is her engaging personality, her smile and her loving spirit that make her a perfect fit for Singing Heart to Heart. Miriam began her career as a vocalist at the age of eleven, singing for weddings and church services. She has spent the past two decades fine-tuning her art; strengthening her voice, crafting new songs, playing guitar and ukulele, collaborating with top Michigan musicians and expanding her repertoire. In addition to her musical gifts, Miriam is a trained CNA with both personal and professional experience working with seniors. Miriam is also the founder and teacher at Little Bird School of Song, a unique, bilingual music and movement class for children ages 0-5 and their caregivers. Miriam has three delightful young children who share her enthusiasm for music and "grandparents" and occasionally accompany Miriam for some extra fun.
Peggy Pierson was named Outstanding Educator for the Traverse City Area Public Schools and also Outstanding Person in Education for Traverse City Area Public Schools. She recently retired after 37 years as a music educator, spending 23 of those years in the Traverse City Area Public Schools music programs, where she taught general music, directed The All-City choir and provided music instruction to parochial schools. She brings that same loving enthusiasm, commitment, and outstanding skill to her work with Singing Heart to Heart. Peggy is a gifted pianist and autoharp player as well as being a highly trained vocal coach. She currently provides personalized music visits for a singer with Parkinson’s as well as leading group sing alongs. Peggy has a Bachelor of Music Education, Broad Area Vocal degree and a Masters Degree in the Art of Teaching. When not playing music, Peggy is working to save our environment or taking a hike in a beautiful spot.
Frank Youngman hails from Cadillac and will be leading music experiences one day each week in Traverse City. Frank is also a recently retired and beloved music teacher. Starting on piano and trumpet, Frank played his first professional job at the age of 15 with a Glenn Miller style band. It was during those early years he came to understand just how powerful music is and how it moves people. Frank’s musical experience ranges from marching bands to a stint with a Chinese Orchestra and decades of time spent in the folk, classic country, swing and jazz world. He plays guitar, banjo, button accordion and even pennywhistles; in addition to piano, trumpet and string bass. He also has a voice that is smooth as silk. To say Frank has a broad repertoire might be an understatement. Frank’s passion for music is matched by his passion for including others in the fun and for interacting with people. When not playing music Frank is probably telling someone a joke or playing with his first grandchild.