Making a Musical Connection With Seniors


By Todd Derstine

For twenty years as a professional performer for seniors, I have witnessed firsthand the effect that the music of the WWII generation can have on audiences. We seem to be hard-wired by our Creator to respond to the music of our life. No matter whether the live performance is in an Alzheimer's unit, and assisted living facility where the average age may be 85-90, or a nursing home where bodies endured a lifetime of operations and debilities, good music finds a way to skip over the broken synapses straight to the heart of the hearer. Dementia may slow down the ability to acquire and process new information, but the deterioration of the cerebral cortex seems only to enhance the emotive effect of music, especially in those afflicted with Alzheimer's disease. The fact that this connection lies deeply protected within the brain indicates to this writer at least the high priority the Creator must have placed on this function.

The classical Greeks were leery of the 'power of the Muses' to possess the human soul for good or bad, and would have frowned heavily upon the unrestrained influences of our musical culture in the past two generations. The power to uplift is turned into the power to corrupt. Sadly, even some senior care facilities heavily dependent on government reimbursements have shown a tendency in recent years to play contemporary rock music pleasing to the staff instead of the kind of music those convalescing would appreciate. Activity Directors are hired who have state credentials but who cannot even recognize names like Al Jolson or Nelson Eddy and Jeanette McDonald. Without truly caring and informed leadership and staff on the inside, institutions begin to exhibit an attitude of thinking they exist for those holding the jobs, instead of those for whom the facility was created to serve. Thankfully, these same institutions can be the very place where the younger generation can be exposed for the first time to the culture of 'the greatest generation,' as Tom Brokaw called it.

A number of large cities have non-profit associations which accept tax-deductible donations to corporations making donations which are funneled to musicians providing professional services pleasing those of the WWII generation. These intermediaries provide a win-win situation, and bring to mind the long-forgotten word of righteous Job:

"The blessing of him that was ready to perish came upon me: and I caused the widow's heart to sing for joy."

Todd Derstine performs some of the songs loved by seniors at

A gifted pianist/vocalist, Todd Derstine has performed for eighteen years for senior audiences nationwide in retirement communities, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities. He is known affectionately in the senior community as 'America's Grandson'.

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