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Northside nursing home all about oldies with music therapy

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Music therapy students perform classic hits, pandemic style

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    Georgia College students Reed Tanner and Matthew Seymour socially distance while rocking out at Fellowship Home at the Meriwether nursing home. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Ludwig van Beethoven believed “music can change the world.”

Two Georgia College students are taking that to heart, lifting the spirits of elderly residents in Milledgeville one song at a time.

“I believe music has the power to open real connection between humans, and I want to use music as a tool to heal,” said graduate student Matthew Seymour of Augusta, who’s getting his master’s in music therapy.

Seymour and senior music therapy major Reed Tanner, Jr. of Carrollton have been serenading the elderly twice a week at Fellowship Home at Meriwether. Memory care residents there have been isolated and in lockdown for almost a year due to COVID.

Music puts smiles on their faces, stirring up long-forgotten memories. Jared Norrod, director of resident care at Fellowship, said it’s “a wonderful opportunity for our residents to interact with someone who is educated on how to connect through music and this often breaks through some of the common barriers seniors face, such as memory impairment and physical limitations.”

About a half dozen residents sat in the sunshine this week to listen and remember. Others listened from windows inside the assisted-living facility, while students performed from inside a protective plastic bubble.

It was hot inside the bubble—but you wouldn’t have known it by listening. Like a stand-up comedy team, the lively duo joked with their audience, teased and even did a little harmless flirting.

One woman danced a two-step shuffle, as Seymour and Tanner crooned oldies from her past like Frank Sinatra’s “LOVE,” Elvis’ “Hound Dog,” “Folsom Prison Blues” by Johnny Cash and “Hey Good Lookin” by Hank Williams. When Tanner sang out “kiss me,” a woman whooped happily, waving her arms. She clapped heartily to each song, kicking up her legs. A gentleman in a wheelchair nearby nodded his head, mouthing the words to each song.

“We play songs from their adolescent years, and there’s not a feeling like it,” Tanner said. “I’ve seen residents, who can’t remember their names, but they can remember the words to songs we’re playing from the ‘40s and ‘50s. It’s memory recall. The music you grew up listening to you don’t forget. It’s ingrained.”

The serenade is part of 180 practicum hours students need with different age groups, before getting internships in music therapy.

There are 55 undergraduate and 14 graduate students taking music therapy at Georgia College, according to assistant professor Dr. Laurie Peebles. They work with children and adults with developmental disabilities and autism, the medically fragile, senior citizens and people with neurological ailments like Parkinson’s Disease. Coursework includes guitar studies, piano, percussion, voice lessons and clini

In the future, Seymour hopes to work with older adults or teens at a veteran’s hospital, alternative school or in prison reform. Once Tanner’s board certified, he’ll work as a music therapist before getting his master’s degree.

To engage more personally with the elderly, the two have gotten their vaccination shots against COVID. Soon, they’ll be able to leave the bubble and window serenades behind and interact inside with residents.

“It’s been great,” Seymour said. “We’ve truly been honored and blessed to come out here and play music and bring a little light to their lives. Combining music with helping people is what I was meant to do.”

– This article was contributed by the Georgia College Office of Communications.