Connecting Through Music

WellLife at Blakeford offers a variety of opportunities for residents to learn new skills and expand their creativity and knowledge through our Enlighten Wellness offerings. One of the ways that residents at our community can tap into new or existing talents is through music education. Blakeford has partnered with licensed music therapist, Drew Laney MT-BC, to offer our first music education program and introduce the Ukulele Orchestra.

Broadening Knowledge

“Our Ukulele Orchestra at Blakeford is a hands-on, fun experience,” says Drew. “Residents purchase their own ukuleles or borrow one for an hour of playing, singing, learning, and laughing.”

Drew Laney. Photo by Portrait Innovations.

Drew Laney. Photo by Portrait Innovations.

As Drew notes, “Learning new songs keeps our interest alive and stimulates the brain as well. We’re also learning about the ukulele, where some of these songs come from, and most importantly, how these songs bring up personal memories and stories.”

Fostering Creativity and Developing Skills

The wonderful thing about the orchestra is that residents don’t need to be skilled musicians to participate. All levels are welcomed. “Each person is developing new skills and adding to what she or he can already do. For some, it is using different fine motor skills in the hands and fingers to hold chords or strum the strings. For others, it is using listening skills for chord changes and working as a group to keep a consistent rhythm,” says Drew.

The orchestra currently has between five and nine players with a core group of three who have been playing together for the last three years. They have performed for many holiday Social Hours at Independent Living and traveled to Burton Court West to offer their talents. Through these performances, members who may not have opportunities to do for others or show leadership skills are now doing these things.

Blakeford resident performing at a talent show.

Blakeford resident performing at a talent show.

In addition to performing, the group has also created their own song books, so not only does the orchestra take pride in learning each new song and each new chord, they are very proud of having made their own song book.

The orchestra builds confidence which improves other aspects of an individual’s life. Music Therapist Marcia Humpal has stated that it may even aid in balance and isolate independent movement of extremities because the vibrations on the torso help the player feel grounded and give a better awareness of the body’s space.

“What I enjoy most about The Ukulele Orchestra,” Drew says, “is laughing with this amazing crew. We have the best time. Then I enjoy making music with them and seeing their faces of joy. Thirdly, I enjoy seeing the expressions on the faces of people walking by and often stopping to listen or even dance in the doorway.”

The Power of Music

Drew also spends a great deal of her time in our community providing music therapy to residents on a one-on-one basis at Burton Court and Woodcrest.

“I take two or three ukuleles for those visits,” she explains. “The residents have different capacities and challenges so I try to connect with each one personally. One resident and I write songs about what she is dealing with and develop ways to play the ukulele with her limited finger ability. Another resident was dealing with Alzheimer’s and always wanted to play the piano but didn’t have a chance. She loved playing the ukulele and singing and would say with a big smile ‘Who knew I was so musical?’  I worked with a resident living with Parkinson’s and when she learned that singing could help with lung elasticity and strengthening the speaking voice, she became interested. When she understood playing the uke wouldn’t fix anything but could help with her fine motor movements, we had a great time playing and singing together. One of the residents loves to sing and harmonize, she doesn’t remember our last visit but she remembers each song, what it means to her and how her husband would play the guitar after dinner every night.”

In addition to the ukulele, Drew also uses the guitar for her music therapy visits along with a variety of exercises to promote relaxation, guided imagery, pain reduction, and deep breathing.

Drew states, “My philosophy of music therapy and music education is that we are all connected by music. Even the hearing impaired can connect to vibrations of an instrument or an electronic speaker. We also now know that the brain has one speech center but many areas that decipher music.”

“Music offers many powerful ways for us to interact with each other,” she continues. “And while music can be therapeutic, that doesn’t make it Music Therapy. Therapy requires a trained and experienced Music Therapist to develop a relationship with the individual to best understand his/her needs. The philosophy I share with the residents is that music and singing and/or playing and moving to music is accidental exercise. We’ve gotten more oxygen to our brains and were having fun doing it.”

Feel free to contact Drew Laney at drewjlane@aol.com