Music makes a difference

Antonia Navarro
Windemere residents raise their voices high and keep the beat as visiting music therapist Antonia Navarro leads the singing. Phot by Diana Waring

By Pat Waring - February 22, 2007

The sound of good times rang through the halls at Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Center last Friday as special guest musicians lead residents in a jovial sing-a-long. The Martha's Vineyard Cooperative Bank sponsored the upbeat event, which brought a professor and a recent graduate of Boston's Berklee College of Music to share their expertise and spirit with residents, staff, and community members.

The recreation room, bright with artwork and crafts by the elders on display and Valentine's Day decorations still hanging from the ceiling, had a festive air as Antonia Navarro, a certified music therapist, strolled about, strumming her guitar and singing. Karen Wacks, Professor of Music Therapy at Berklee, lead a warm-up from the piano, and then encouraged the group to join in the jaunty "I Want to Sing All Day Long," complete with hand gestures.

Though some were a bit reticent at first, after a few familiar songs - "This Little Light of Mine," "Let Me Call You Sweetheart," and "When the Saints Go Marching In" - most of the residents joined in with gusto, smiling, singing, and playing an array of chimes, tambourines, and maracas. Some who were not singing nodded heads or waved hands to keep the beat, while a few just listened, quiet and content. Then there was resident Elizabeth Mendolia, who got right up for a twirl around the floor.

Later that day, the visitors led a workshop for staff and community members titled, "How to Beat the Blues with Music."

"I thought it was fabulous," said Dorothy Soquist, director of social services and admissions, adding that music therapy is a fascinating discipline with a positive health impact. "I wish we could have a music therapist on staff. There are many other benefits than just enjoying music."

Patti Leighton, executive assistant at the M.V. Co-op bank, was there too, singing, swaying, and clapping along with the audience. She said that as a major sponsor of the annual Vineyard Vibes jazz festival, the bank made a connection with Berklee that led to Friday's program. She was pleased to see how moved both residents and others were by the two presentations.

"The bank is not just concerned with everyone's financial wellness, but it's our community's wellness as a whole," Ms. Leighton said. "It's not just about budgets and balances; it's about the whole person's well-being."

See Julian Wise's story on the Windemere music therapy program in next week's Times.