With many clicks and several mistakes, I final figured out downloading music onto MP3 players. No, it is not hard, but it is new to my toolkit. In the past I figured out iTunes, however, iTunes do not automatically download on anything other than an Apple product, and while it is possible, I found way too many turns and spins to feel like I might attain success in a reasonable amount of time with snippets of patience in reserve. We shared the new players at our last Respite gathering and each recipient met it with joy. A couple felt unsure that it truly belonged to them as I carefully explained that the music had been provided through generous donations at Tie-One-On in January. I also offered a player to friends’ Mom who has Alzheimer’s and they had expressed the happiness their mom encountered when listening to ABBA, her favorite group.

The next step is setting up music for the residents of Harmony Manor and Quail Corner. Their iPods are gifts from our community members as well as the HGH Auxiliary who were instrumental in our original Music and Memory project 8 years ago. Because there have been activity director changes, I retrieved the iPods, charged them, counted out players ready for current residents as I looked at refurbishing players for new folks. A marvel, at least in my mind, arrived as I attached the USB from iPod to my laptop and the song list appeared. I printed each playlist, put that particular player in a bag, and stapled the list to the bag. Now we know exactly what is already recorded on each player.

On March 8, Lowry Cheer and Auxiliary volunteers will interview residents to determine what music speaks to them – favorites, delights, and personal songs that transmit the brain to another era full of memories, hidden stories, and grand adventures. If you have missed the movie Alive Inside, check it out on Netflix and you will discover the wonderful connection of music and the brain. Following the interview process, lists will be created and new music downloaded (or additional music, as the case may be) onto individual iPods. Each will also receive a headset as earbuds can be irritating. Again, you have to witness this musical transition as dramatic cognitive shifts materialize.

Currently, we are short 6-8 iPods. Of course, Apple no longer manufactures these as the company desires that we purchase a $400+ phone – nice, but not practical for our plans. The options include buying used iPods on-line ($$$ because they are now “collector items”), switching to MP3s in mid-stream (easy enough but now those who download must juggle between iTunes purchases and Amazon products), or asking you. Dear readers, do you have iPods hiding in boxes, under the couch, in the trunk, or in the junk drawer? If so, we’d love to repurpose your player to a new owner. The magic you bring is beyond words – but I can snap a photo so you have a visual of the enjoyment.

Some ask why personal music? Well, we each have individual preferences. For example, I love Deep Purple – the louder the better; some find this annoying. Why headsets? Earbuds and hearing aids do not mix. Plus, music is private and while piped in works, special tunes in quiet solitude, transport the listener to new ground. How does this work? The music center of the brain stays active long after recall of faces and places vanishes. Even the words to songs remain and when words are forgotten, I watch as someone with dementia can now read the lyrics from a page. 

Some might even ask “Why bother?” First, it is no bother, and second because it is beautiful. I’ve witnessed the amazing transformation from music. I sang with a group in high school and because Dad scheduled many events for us, we decided to surprise him with an addition to our repertoire. My Nana, his mom, had written “The Shadowy Blue St. Joe” so we arranged soprano and alto, practiced, and at a meeting we launched. A stoic man, Dad’s face changed from “I wonder what they are up to” to absolute astonishment and tears. Needless to say, we cried, too. Later he thanked us and begged for no more surprises.

His favorite song was “Heart of My Heart”. Even 50+ years after his passing, my heart breaks at this tune. Music is so deep, so personal.