The Essence of Who We Are......

By Will Randolph

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From the film, Alive Inside. Image courtesy of the filmmakers.

There is a new movie, a documentary about the use of Music with Alzheimers' Patients. It is called Alive Inside. It is really amazing how music is able to reach inside of people's memory who have Alzheimers' and are even non-verbal and non communicative. Music Therapist have observed this over and over again with those they minister to. Think about yourself too! Remember how your mood can change just hearing a song. Sometimes it becomes a connection to other memories, but it does not have to. Music can appeal to us beyond even having words that make sense in a song. Remember some of the popular songs of the 50's and 60's like Walla Walla Bing Bang? Remember the do Wop songs like "Splish,Splash I was Taking a Bath"? They brought joy to me some 20 years later when I was growing up because they were funny. and resonated somewhere in the deepest reach of my being. Hearing them I bet made you laugh and you did not know why? Music is said to "tame the most powerful beast and to inspire poets to dream.." It has a power over us. I used it to prepare for my ballgames in high school, and others use it in the workplace to keep them in a good mood. Field hands, Slaves, and Share Croppers knew the value of singing when their was hard work to do. I do not think this is an accident because I believe that music reaches past our conscious minds and are a window into our souls. Our minds are not our souls. Many great psychologists believed in a division between mind and soul. C.G. Jung even attempted to map out the differences between mind and spirit and to know where the spirit ended and the mind began.

This movie Documentary Alive Inside brought back memories of serving as a Chaplain in a retirement community. Today is Friday and I used to look forward to Fridays and leading worship in the Memory Impairment Unit in Murrysville. I am not sure anything I did was actually worshipful, but because of the music, they always seemed magical, like none anywhere else. I would watch residents who largely slept through most activities and who were unable to communicate start singing along with old hymns every word verbatim from the memory that 2 minutes earlier couldn't even remember their name. I also witnessed the activity person Lisa Sz (someone I admire to this day) playing popular songs as we set up or took down for worship and see residents either smile or cry for certain songs. I discovered from Bob the husband of one of the residents that the one song which produced tears in his wife was "their song" when they first met. And the popular song tune"You are My Sunshine, My Only Sunshine "would produce a smile on one certain residents' face whenever it was played. I am convinced his soul recognized it from somewhere.

Music is always produce as a sound wave or vibration. Just like light which is also a vibration and produced as a wavelength. Energy. Just maybe there is something deeper going on than any song we may remember. Christ was compared to and termed the light of the world. Again energy, and vibration. Perhaps music stirs our souls, our spirits because it is a message from God distributed in the universe in some way we are not yet aware. and able to travel great physical distances. Ever heard of the Love or Miracle Sound? It is a pitch that resonates at 528 HZ. Apparently its supporters believe that it was able to break up the pollution in the Gulf Coast water when it was blared through speakers over containers full of the water. Or how do we explain water which freezes in ugly crystals shaped like a devil mask when very negative loud comments are repeated over and over again while it freezes. There is a lot we simply either have to take on faith or just believe in hope.

Back to the Friday Worship services. I loved the services because I experienced something that I never felt elsewhere. A resident could be sleeping and I would experience a sensation during worship, a presence about them especially when they sang the hymns. It was always palpable during worship. However, as soon as the worship service had concluded it was gone. When the individual resident failed to come to worship whether they were out with family, or feeling sick, etc. I missed that same presence in the worship service. The presence was different for each individual, and I felt it so strongly during singing that I could close my eyes and without hearing any voices could tell you who was in the room with me and who was not. When the resident sang hymns especially if their family joined us for worship more than once their family members noticed that presence too and commented. A typical comment went something like "for a brief moment it was as if I have my beloved back. I think that Music and music therapy and worship is something churches should offer to do in Retirement Communities, Nursing Homes, and through/with Home Healthcare Agencies.

Everyone should see this short movie Alive Inside . Dementia affects almost everybody because we either know someone who has Alzheimers or will get it. This movie gives us hope, that though we will never have back the person we knew before they were robbed of their memory, what was taken from them and us is not the whole of their being, of who they are.

Here is a link to one of the trailers of this movie: