TORONTO — At a recent Chanukah concert put on by Buddies Glee Club at Baycrest, Sydney Press, 85, sang at the top of his lungs.
A Baycrest resident who has Alzheimer’s disease, Press joined the club – it has members ranging in age from 75 to 103 – with his wife, Vivian Rosenberg, 76, who attended each rehearsal with him.
Rosenberg said that her husband, who sang and played trumpet from a young age, has always been musical. “When he came to Baycrest, I looked for a program for him, and when this came up, I jumped at [the chance to join.]
“There is absolutely no question. When he starts to sing, his whole mood changes. He perks up, and enjoys every minute.”
The glee club is part of a research study, which began in 2011 as a 16-week program for adults who attend Baycrest day programs. Phase 2 of the study was for residents of the nursing home, and Phase 3 combined nursing home residents and their caregivers, who were required to attend each rehearsal.
The recent concert was made up of participants in the phase two and three components of the study.
Amy Clements-Cortes, senior music therapist at Baycrest and an assistant professor at the University of Toronto, said that participants were tested before and after the program, and some rated themselves, about whether singing made them happy and less anxious, if they felt uplifted, and if they had a good time.
“We have learned from our research that the choir is beneficial and enhances their quality of life. All participants reported that their happiness increased, energy increased, and pain decreased, after each weekly session.”
Overall, she said, research shows that music reduces pain, enhances perception, elevates moods and facilitates sleep and relaxation. It can also help participants to pay attention and focus. “There are so many benefits to music.
“The glee club is so successful, that we’re continuing it now without a research component.”
Chrissy Pearson, a Baycrest music therapist who leads the glee club, said participants look forward to their weekly practices.
“We warm up with breathing exercises and scales so they get oriented. For those who are cognitively impaired, this is a cue for them to participate.
“We then start singing, and we do only three or four songs so they become familiar with them. To change things up a little, we change the tempo, sing the songs louder or softer, or sing an alternate arrangement.”
Being a music therapist, she said, she is able to tailor the choir to everyone’s needs. “For example, I know where each participant should sit, who they should or should not sit with, and in what order the songs should be practised. Some people need to start off with energetic songs, and others need to work up to that.”
After each practice, she said, she asks participants about their mood, and “I can honestly say that no one ever reported being in a bad mood. Those who were agitated or confused when they began the practice, seemed more relaxed and alert. That is the goal of the program, and it seems we have reached that goal.”
She added that she has witnessed a wonderful connection between the residents and caregivers, whether they be children, spouses or hired caregivers. “They interacted by smiling at each other, sharing memories or hugging and holding hands. This was one of the great benefits of the study.”
Monty Mazin, 86, who is a part of the glee club with his wife, Blema, who has Alzheimer’s disease, said it is “joyful” for him to see her sing. “She played piano when she lived in Montreal, and in her better moments, she can remember some songs.”
He said that he is an ambassador for the program. “It’s so important to bring people together in an atmosphere that makes them happy.”
For the recent 45-minute concert, which was a huge success, Pearson said, they sang about 18 songs, including show tunes, jazzy songs and Chanukah tunes.