Music to spark a better life for older adults and preschoolers

One of my earliest memories is of being in the kitchen with my grandmother.  Even today, whenever I am whisking eggs or folding dry ingredients, I can almost hear her humming tunelessly, just the way she did when she was happy and in the moment.  In my family, baking was an intergenerational activity that brought in age ranges from 4 to 84.  Even as a toddler whose complete lack of coordination prohibited her from handling anything more dangerous than a blunt spoon, I knew that I was always welcome in my grandma’s kitchen.

As my family continues to age and the newest generation of drooling babies and mischievous toddlers is crawling and multiplying around us, I keep an eye out for these intergenerational bonding moments.  The chance for aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, grandparents and children under the age of four to all get together in the same place is rare enough; to get all those individuals participating in and enjoying an activity together seems to be asking a lot.  With a crowd this large, cooking isn’t really a good option.  Games are difficult when the grandparents veto all calls for contact sports and the young’uns are totally oblivious to the point of Scrabble or Trivial Pursuit.  So how can we as a multi-generational unit bond together?  Well, we’ve found two big rallying points: music and water.

Music has no age gaps.  While there may be a significant difference between the Elvis oldies Grandpa plays in his car, the weird garage band music emanating from the youngest uncle’s ipod and the Veggie Tales theme song my niece has memorized, this is one activity that all of us can participate in and appreciate.  Music gets everyone laughing and moving together, whether or not the correct words (much less the correct notes!) are being sung.  Choruses of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” “There’s a hole in the bottom of the sea!” and “Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree” can be heard at random times of the day and night.  JoAnn has seen the way music can act as a binding agent during music therapy sessions, helping to smooth over uncertainties and lending words to people who otherwise find themselves with little to say to each other.

Water has also proved to be a nice convergence point.  Maybe it’s because there is an infinite number of games that can be played or that everyone can have the experience that he or she wants.  While the kiddies are splashing around in swim floaties, the older kids can be playing Marco Polo and the Vitamin-D craving adults can simply sunbathe.

While some of my earliest intergenerational moments happened in the kitchen, the ones I’m making now are happening around the pool or are set to music.  What do you think is the key to creating an environment that is good for all ages?  Are there any activities or games that you’ve found really successful for a wide age range of participants?

~Laura, Guest Blogger


Elvis Week Sing-along

A cropped and retouched picture, showing a hea...

Image via Wikipedia

It is common for older adults to request an Elvis song or two during a music therapy session. As Elvis Week began on August 9th I asked friends on Facebook and Twitter for their favorite Elvis songs. Here’s a list from their suggestions;

Gather up the family or a group of friends and have a great time singing and imitating Elvis. Do you have a favorite Elvis song you like to sing? Share it in the comments below.

Social (Media) Niceties

Growing up in the South, I was taught that introductions are an important social interaction and skill.  There’s even a formula for the proper introduction: state your name, throw in some social niceties, explain how you happen to be there chatting with them, connect your interests and goals with theirs’, make tentative future plans and finally end with a nice firm handshake.  Well, that’s all fine and Yankee Doodle Dandy, but no one ever taught me how to make a good introduction into a new (to me) online community.  Does a new media introduction still conform to these socially created standards?  Only one way to find out!

State your name: “Hi, I’m Laura.”

Seems to be going okay so far….

Throw in some social niceties: “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”  “What an adorable baby!”  “Some weather we’ve been having recently, isn’t it?”

Really? I brought up the weather to an online global audience? Let’s keep going, maybe they won’t notice…

Explain how you happen to be here: “I am fortunate to get the chance to combine forces with JoAnn Jordan and hang out on her blog for the next little bit.  If you’re interested in music therapy, health, wellness, caregiving or any other related topic, it’s likely I’ll be stopping by to visit your blog, too.  You’ll probably also see me lurking around twitter (@LauraCrum1) and the MusicSparks Facebook page. “

Great, I said lurking.  Now they think I’m creepy.  Okay, don’t panic, just get back on track….

Connect your interests and goals to theirs’: “While I am not a music therapist, I am a music lover.  I am lucky enough to have grown up in a musical household and to have witnessed firsthand the way music can create an interpersonal connection between individuals and deepen intrapersonal understanding.  More than that, I believe in wellness, harmony with ourselves and others, and personal growth, all of which are some of the intentions of music therapy.  I also believe that through social media, we can discover and draw connections that might otherwise have passed us by.”

Alright, that was mostly coherent! Maybe they’ve forgotten about the lurking awkwardness…

Make future plans: “Over the next several weeks, I will be looking around, learning more about the online music therapy group and related communities.  I want to hear your perspectives, learn from your experience and have the opportunity to share ideas back and forth.”

That’s it, girl, almost there!  Just one more step!

End with a firm handshake:  …?

Okay, so the old standard doesn’t fit seamlessly into new media (maybe a virtual high-five would have been better than the standard handshake?) but the intent is there and I am sincerely pleased to make your acquaintance!

What’s your favorite way to connect with others online? Do you prefer Twitter over Facebook?  Are there any topics or ideas that you would like to see brought up for discussion?


~Laura, Guest Blogger

Diving Back In

Arvid Spångberg winning the bronze medal.

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My vacation with family in Florida has ended. Today I am diving back into work with a fun, new intergenerational series: A Sea Full of Fun. What an appropriate topic!

  • I’ve just left being gulf side in Florida.
  • Not home even 24 hours, I’m back to providing sessions.
  • I’m working with my favorite mix of people: older adults & preschoolers.

Returning from a vacation can be difficult yet I have found a few things that make the “dive” less scary.

  1. I clean the house before I leave.While it is extra work on the front side, it makes it one less thing to do when I return home.
  2. I plan a few breaks from the normal schedule where possible. I try to set aside time in the schedule to sort mail, pay bills, unpack, and take a nap. Sometimes it means saying no to someone or something.
  3. I am learning to ask for help. My daughter and husband aren’t mind readers (like I often wish they were) so I ask their needs and their assistance with tasks.
  4. I plan for the unexpected. Having phone numbers for possible issues helps when the flight is cancelled, a tire is flat, or someone is ill. If I plan for the potential of issues, it seems less stressful and the issue doesn’t seem as bad as I had imagined.
  5. I treat myself with something the first week home. Maybe it is a bouquet of flowers, a special meal, or a massage, having a treat that first week back seems to ease the jump back.

I haven’t perfected returning to work from vacation, but I have managed to make the first step off the “board” less frightening. What do you do to ease out of vacation? Please share it in the comments.

John Denver's Greatest Hits

Image by thejcgerm via Flickr

Tomorrow I will be traveling back home after a wonderful family vacation. Though I will be flying, John Denver is running through my head. If you open the cover of John Denver’s “Take Me Home Country Roads”, adapted and illustrated by Christopher Canyon you are greeted with this quote:

Music makes pictures and often tells stories, all of it magic and all of it true. And all of the pictures and all of the stories, and all of the magic, the music is you. ~John Denver

While this is a children’s book, I believe it would work well in an intergenerational group. Watch the clip to find out why.

What are your impressions of this book? Share them in the comments.

The other day, Susan Seale posted a TEDtalks video about conscious listening to her blog.  If you have a few moments, it’s definitely worth the time to listen to this short talk.  While Julian Treasure’s main point was related to connecting with each other (and ourselves) through better self-reflective listening practices, I found myself mulling more over the amount of noise in our lives.  Whether consciously chosen or not, we are in a noisy world: the low-voiced meeting happening in the corner office, the on-hold Muzak when we call customer service, the hissing of the espresso machine in the coffee shop.  In fact, it’s the quiet moments that draw our attention rather than the loud ones simply because they seem out of place.  I may not be aware of what song is playing on the car radio, but I sure notice when the station deejay doesn’t switch the track fast enough and there is an extended pause of white silence.  And every parent knows that when the household is too quiet, it’s a sure sign that the kiddos are up to something.

We have instant access to just about every sound and song we could ever want.  There is free Internet radio like Pandora, iTunes has customizable playlists and YouTube can play everything from music videos to the sound of babies laughing.  So, what is the role of the music therapist when considering the cacophony we’re surrounded by on a daily basis?  When we already have a soundtrack to our lives, what does a music therapist have to offer?

Simply put, a lot.

Just because we hear noise constantly does not mean that we are benefiting from it.  Music therapists use their extensive instrumental and vocal talents combined with therapy training to make what would otherwise be random sounds into something purposeful and useful.  It’s not that music therapists “own” music; it’s that music therapists can control and utilize music to its full potential.

It is easy to see the creative aspect of a music therapist’s role.  After all, they are talented musicians who sing and play a variety of instruments.  In one sense, they are artists.  However, they are also scientists and this is the role that can be harder to detect because they observe, diagnose and heal through their artistic methods.  Kimberly Moore did an excellent job illustrating certified music therapists as professionals with an arsenal of knowledge and training at their disposal.

There is no substitution for expert knowledge and experience.  In a world full of noise, we need music therapists to help make sense of the din, to bring order to chaos.  I like to think of music therapists like the conductors of an orchestra, able to bring forth particular harmonies and make certain sections sing.

What types of noises are you surrounded by?



The week of August 1-7 is Simplify Your Life Week. As always, that has me asking questions.

  • How can simplification apply to my work?
  • How does simplification apply when working with older adults or children?
  • Does it apply to life with a young child?

In my work, simplification can take many forms. Accompaniments can be reduced even to the point of a simple rhythm on a drum. I can prepare less structure/plan allowing myself to flow with the clients during the session.

Working with older adults I have become aware of the need to decrease background noise. With many clients – old & young – less visual noise is also helpful. It can be easier to attend to a person or a task when there is less in your visual field.

At home, simplification can mean putting away some of the toys for a month. By rotating what is out and available, it keeps things fresh. It can also mean playing with simple blocks or containers

How do you bring simplification to you life? Your work?  Please share it now in the comments.

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