Music is good for the brain. Along with its cognitive benefits, music can ease anxiety, assist with memory and cognitive processing, improve mental health by stimulating and calming the brain, and provide vital opportunities for social involvement.
In the summer of 2017, Baycrest Health Sciences in Toronto introduced residents and patients to 69-year-old Howard Mednick, a classical music DJ known for his irreverent and sometimes quirky themes, as well as using technology to connect audiences with leading performers and orchestras from around the world.
“Even though the concert may be in Carnegie Hall in New York, I am presenting it to them at Baycrest,” said Mednick. “The audience will feel they are right there in the concert hall, or even sitting alongside the musicians in the orchestra.”
In 2014, Mednick’s world came crashing down around him when Fern, his beloved wife of 46 years, fell and had to be hospitalized. Diagnosed with atypical Parkinson’s, a rare form of the disease that is both rapidly degenerative and incurable, she became a resident at Baycrest’s Apotex Centre in 2015 and died last October.
“From the time Fern had that fall to the time she went to Baycrest, I was her caregiver. Every minute of the day, I had to keep my eye on her,” said Mednick. “She had falls all the time and her logical reasoning was compromised, so she was making poor decisions. It was an excruciating, difficult time.”
Mednick went from being a 24-hour caregiver to what he calls a two-hour husband, visiting his wife every day for almost three years. “I found with my wife that a music activity was the only thing that we could enjoy together as a couple,” Mednick explained. “Just like we used to do in attending a concert before she got this condition.”
The two-hour husband’s energy was often depleted. One day, while en-route to see his wife, he had an epiphany. He’d been listening to a classical music station, when the radio announcer said, “Stop everything and for the next 55 minutes, listen to Gustav Mahler’s first symphony.” Mednick said that, “For the first few minutes, he explained what was included in that work – the Frère Jacques tune, a klezmer tune and a funeral march. My feeling was that this disc jockey had the best job in the world.”
That experience inspired new meaning and purpose to Mednick’s life. With a former career spanning over 40 years as a computer systems consultant, Mednick combined his love of visiting his wife at Baycrest with his love of classical music and created a unique and rewarding music program.
“I searched on YouTube for some of my favourite pieces of music by Mozart, Beethoven and other classical masters. Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola – a full performance of music by Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman playing violin and viola with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra appeared. What could be better than that? It dawned on me I could put together a presentation,” said Mednick. “Having taken a number of lectures on various aspects of classical music, I formulated this concept I called ‘Classical Music DJ.’ I am acting like a DJ, presenting music and then talking about it.”
Each entertaining one-hour presentation is shown through PowerPoint slides that detail the composer’s history and are intended to inspire an interactive group discussion. Topics include classical music in popular culture, Jewish themes in classical music by non-Jewish composers, operatic drinking songs, spoofs on classical music and sexy classical music.
“My greatest sense of satisfaction has come from the residents. After one presentation at the terraces, a woman told me that she used to sing opera in her younger days and thoroughly enjoyed my presentation about Leonard Bernstein. That was rewarding to hear, since it came from a former music professional,” said Mednick. “After an Apotex presentation, a gentleman came up to me and said, ‘For the last few years of my life, all I want to do is listen to music like you have just presented to us.’ With that comment, I knew I hit the mark.”
Mednick has given more than 40 presentations to date, and Classical Music DJ has branched out to other audiences in the community.
Mednick said that it “has become a true labour of love.”
Visit classicalmusicdj.com for more information.