Harmonies for the Elderly

Deepa Rajan serenades victims of Alzheimer’s and dementia

Harmonies for the Elderly
by Deepa Rajan

Last winter, I made a short film of interviews I conducted of elderly men and women. Their stories were compelling: some were immigrants, none shared the same occupation, but all were surprised how much their professions had changed with time and technology.

One woman, now 91, had been a secretary. She retired when computers took over. She said her "craft was typewriters not keyboards." The one question I asked everyone: were they surprised when the United States made it to the moon. Enthusiastically, they all said, "No," which never failed to surprised me.

"President Kennedy said we were going to and we did."

I heard a lot of good stories about the introduction of rock & roll into pop culture. Many of their parents didn't approve. Some listened to their transistor radios hidden under their pillow. All were thrilled by the Beatles on TV to one degree or another. They were all exceptional storytellers.

It seems as if a vast ocean exists between teens and the elderly, yet stories and music bring us together. Violinist Deepa Rajan, a junior at Westwood High School, is helping bridge that gap through music with her group Harmonies for the Elderly, an assortment of string, wind, and percussion instruments with vocals. Deepa's been performing for the elderly since middle school and finds they often reciprocate with meaningful stories.

“Music is the common ground that spans generation,” she offers. “Music is beautiful to the young and old alike. Not only do we make connections by playing music the elderly can relate to, but we also engage them and hold one-on-one conversations to fully understand the role that music has played in shaping their lives.

"After I finished playing a piece by Bach, one nursing home resident told me that she had been an organist for several decades and that our performance had brought back memories of her own concerts that she had long forgotten. Another audience member suddenly remembered her father’s string quartet from the Forties. Another woman exclaimed that she remembered singing our songs when she was in high school."

Harmonies for the Elderly consists of students of all ages from a wide variety of schools across Austin, including Westwood High School, McCallum High School, and Canyon Vista Middle School. No two performances are the same.

Harmonies for the Elderly currently gives weekly concerts at Gracy Woods Nursing Center, as well as other nursing care facilities that have residents with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Deepa's goal is to "reach out to as many elderly residents as possible."

So, play some music for an elderly loved one, next door neighbor, or stranger. Listen to the stories of our aged friends. Theirs are tales you will likely never forget.

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Harmonies for the Elderly, President Kennedy, Beatles, Deepa Rajan, Gracy Woods Nursing Center, McCallum High School, Canyon Vista Middle School

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