Associate Spotlight: Tunes To Live By

The Falls at Cordingly Dam brings meaningful music, arts programming to residents

Two women posing for picture in senior home

Music is magic.

Nothing bonds more powerfully with memory. Where were you when you first heard that song? Who were you with? What were you feeling?

That’s the inspiration for a magical new program, Soundtrack of Your Life, underway at The Falls at Cordingly Dam in Newton. Residents there have created personal playlists – and CDs – of songs that carry meaning for them; that connect with important moments or themes in their lives.

Kasey Larsen and Shayla McDermott – The Falls’ art therapist and music therapist, respectively – originated the idea. “We wanted to create a legacy project for the residents and their families,” Shayla said. The goal was to craft personal collections of songs residents and their loved ones could enjoy and reflect on.

Senior woman paintingIt began in June. Shayla met weekly with around a dozen residents. She would provide lists of songs in personalized binders from various genres, musicians and decades, then seek ideas from residents for songs that were important to them. “Each week the residents’ soundtracks grew and grew,” Shayla said  “Families also got into it, letting us know about songs that held meaning for the residents.”

The Soundtrack project is not only about music. It also had residents writing about their musical selections and creating artwork. They produced “album covers” for their soundtracks, using damaged, vinyl records recovered by Kasey. They painted on the records, providing visual representations of their songs. It was a cooperative effort, with residents offering each other suggestions on how they might illustrate their “covers.”

The motivating idea behind Soundtrack of Your Life, Kasey says, is to inspire residents “intellectually, musically and spiritually. It’s also about building connection and community. The residents get to share the songs with each other.  It’s a way for them to get to know each other. I’ll hear them say, ‘This is my wedding song,’ or ‘This song got me through a very tough time.’”

There’s no set number of songs in each person’s soundtrack. It has ranged from five to 20. “It’s whatever it takes to tell the story,” Shayla said.

The program has shown the two therapists a side of the residents they hadn’t seen before. They’ve been surprised and gratified at how vulnerable participants have allowed themselves to be. Kasey recalls one shy resident “who came out of her shell. To hear her laugh and be passionate about her soundtrack was wonderful.”

Another resident passed away just after finishing her Soundtrack project. Shayla brought the resident’s CDs to her family. It was heartwarming, said says, watching the family enjoy going through the soundtrack. “They felt it was so meaningful.” The family has since emailed titles of additional songs they believe should be part of the resident’s soundtrack.

Senior man paintingWhile she suspected the residents had a wide range of musical tastes, Shayla was still surprised to see how wide it truly was. They chose old favorites – Somewhere Over the Rainbow and Stardust – as well as contemporary songs like Colby Caillat’s Bubbly. “We had everything from German classical music – Dichterliebe – to Italian and French favorites, and children’s songs like Kumbaya and Mairzy Doats, heartfelt songs like You’ll Never Walk Alone, and songs of comedy like Seven Old Ladies Stuck In a Lavatory.”

A gallery opening featuring the music and art created by the residents will take place later this month in the third-floor sitting room at The Falls. In addition, Shayla and Kasey hope to establish a music library at The Falls where residents can come and play the CDs they’ve created.

The Soundtrack of Your Life project was a reminder, Kasey says, of how important the work they do is for the residents, but for themselves, as well. “The project kept us on our toes. It kept our creative juices flowing.”

While Soundtrack of Your Life looks powerfully to the past, it also reveals a lot about who the residents are today. Shayla said the program “has brought me closer to the residents. I have a greater sense of who they’ve been throughout their lives and what they’ve gone through.”

The Falls at Cordingly Dam