Healing through song

Submitted by Lyse M. Côté – 

Do you remember the greatest hits of the 70s, 80s and 90s? What about those from the 40s, 50s and 60s? Those are the songs that connect seniors who are aging naturally and those living with cognitive challenges, to a time when they felt vital and young.

Hearts in Tune– previously known as Minds in Song– is an on-going eight-week program for people living at home with early Alzheimer’s and their caregivers. The group has been meeting every Saturday afternoon at the Hintonburg Community Centre (HCC) since the fall of 2014.

Under the leadership of Nigel Harris, the group of eight to ten couples (or caretakers) meets for a time of singing and drumming, (recently introduced), socialization and mindfulness meditation with Lyse Côté. For many of these couples, this is their only event in the week.

Hearts in Tune meets every week for 90 minutes of singing, drumming, socialization, and meditation. Photo by Andrea Tomkins

By singing familiar songs, participants reminisce, thereby stimulating their long-term memory, and are transported to a happy time from their youth. This activity is known to boost self-confidence, self-esteem, increase endorphin activity, create a positive mood, and build a supportive community.

But, there is a natural shrinking effect over time as the disease progresses. Nigel is continually looking to replace those who have left.

“People with early Alzheimer’s love the camaraderie of hanging with other people,” Nigel explains adding that “everyone loves the program.”

“They bring their own songs they want to sing, and caretakers – mostly spouses – get respite from being the 24/7 caretaker.”

“It’s a huge adjustment for couples to make who have been together for 40 to 50 years. We support people who are going through tough times. All I care about is bringing joy and relief to caregivers of Alzheimer’s.”

Nigel Harris of Hearts in Tune. Photo by Andrea Tomkins
Nigel Harris of Hearts in Tune. Photo by Andrea Tomkins

Originally sponsored by the Alzheimer’s Society of Ottawa and Renfrew County, Hearts in Tune is now run by Musical Wellness, an Ottawa-based, independent, therapeutic music business, owned and operated by Nigel, a graduate of the music department at the University of Ottawa and a lifelong music facilitator, choir leader and composer.

Nigel plays guitar. Lyse – an Energy Healing, Reiki practitioner and owner of Anahata Healing – leads the closing mindfulness meditation. The program is so successful, Nigel’s vision is to expand all across the city and include more seniors.

A typical Saturday afternoon session flies by quickly. Voice warm-ups kick off the session. A simple drum rhythm plays on the sound system and participants shake tambourines or beat drums until the room is filled with energy, building the group’s cohesion. At this point, well-known ditties are added, drawing everyone into a synchronized group ‘heartbeat.’  This is followed by a selection of songs sung from the repertoire and from memory.

The short coffee break offers a time for listening, supporting, and learning from each other, making this a close-knit community as well as a singing group. A resource table provides relevant community information and guest speakers on various topics are invited to drop-in. To close the session, a short mindfulness meditation prepares the singers to return to their weekend routines in a relaxed state of mind.

If this sounds like music to your ears and you want to experience the magic of the Hearts in Tunecommunity first hand, Nigel and Lyse are currently seeking new members in the Kitchissippi Times catchment area.

Hearts in Tune sing and have fun together every Saturday from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. in the Laroche Room at the Hintonburg Community Centre. No prior musical knowledge or audition is needed.

For more information go to musicalwellness.com or contact Nigel at 613-728-5305 or Lyse at 613-355-9234.

Is there a non-profit group or volunteer that you think we should feature in KT? Do you know someone who is making our community a better place? Let us know! Send your suggestions to editor@kitchissippi.com.

This feature is brought to you in part by Catherine McKenna, MP Ottawa Centre


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