Since I recently left the kennel ( </3 ), I’ve decided to update my resume to be sure it’s reflective of where I’m at now. I have a “Skills” section at the bottom where I mention that I’m “Conversational in Italian,” and I’m impatiently waiting for the day that I can confidently change it to “Fluent.” I probably have a solid 10 years before I’m close, so Conversational is staying for now. I am, however, tempted to include “Fluent in Pavarotti” below my subpar Italian skills, and I have my loves and this trip to thank for that.
According to Paula Spencer Scott:
“The arts have an amazing power to reach people with dementia. When rational language begins to erode, symbolic emotional communication remains. That is what art is, symbolic emotional communication – sharing a vision of the world through gestures, words, sounds, images. Shared communication of any kind can bring people suffering from loneliness and isolation into community.”
She goes on to specify that “lyrics can stay in the brain even after language skills are lost; music can be a real source of joy.” How nuts, right?! We’ve all of course experienced this to some degree – an old favorite pops up on shuffle and we’re able to excitedly recite every word. Songs often evoke memories, too. I always make playlists for my trips so that when I’m home, I can be reminded of that vacation and how it made me feel.
If it hasn’t been apparent already, I truly value and appreciate what Dr. Taylor writes in his essays (being that he is battling Alzheimer’s himself):
“Singing something, anything, from children’s songs to hymns, from the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah (I can still recall the first note for tenors) to any and all Beatles songs, helps me feel that I am feeling okay and, in fact, good.”
It’s no secret that music is an incredible therapeutic tool. My only dilemma initially was that I am not, in fact, a ninety-something year old nonna; I didn’t grow up here, I understand next to nothing when I hear different dialects, and the closest thing I’m familiar with to an old Italian song is “Dominick the Donkey.” While my site doesn’t offer formal music therapy, a few patients are avid (and loud) singers. I began to decipher as much of what they were belting out as I could, then searched Google for the rest of the lyrics and to find the title. The clouds parted and God presented Luciano Pavarotti, one of the most successful operatic tenors of all time. Thankfully for me, he’s covered almost every top hit amongst my audience.
Our day to day has changed. While not a music therapist, I am a self-proclaimed Pavarotti cover artist and enthusiast. My laptop speakers blare songs with all their might, and w e g o n u t s; we f’ing scream those lyrics, thanks in part to the advice of Dr. Taylor:
“It is best to sing out loud and loudly. Thinking about singing is like thinking about sex. It is much, much more satisfying if done with all of your body instead of just between your ears. It is much, much more satisfying if others can and do join in.”
What has this incorporation of music done besides wake our neighbors? It’s allowed us to let loose, have fun, and simply enjoy each other. A loud singer is a lot less aggravating to others if they themselves have joined in too. It has also, and most importantly, facilitated communication and elevated mood. There are nonnas who I actually believed to be unable to speak that have since blossomed into some of the most caring, outgoing, and affectionate patients that I have the pleasure of loving every day. One in particular hadn’t smiled or spoken once in the weeks that I’d known her; I had ignorantly assumed her to be either shy or too far cognitively impaired to converse. She is one of my most passionate (and vocal!) back-up singers today, and she does not stop hugging, kissing, or smiling.
I cannot forget my nonnos, some of whom can often be particularly cranky (am I the only person who adores cranky old men?!). One of my favorites enjoys sharing stories about his hometown (my Roma ❤ ) but becomes more forgetful and likely disinterested when in an unfavorable mood. Though not a singer himself, after our concerts he is without fail more cheerful and able to recall that which he had difficulty remembering only hours before. It is truly remarkable what music can do. Grazie Pavarotti ❤
*note: our fav https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UNmT7UswM7E