WRITING FOR SENIORS

Question: I love to read, and now feel I’d like to write. What do I need to know about writing

Answer: The ability to create as a writer – in fact, through any venue – depends on your perspective of what you see; an emotional connection to the subject that will motivate you; and your imagination. If you’ve ever had “writer’s block,” a period of time where words and thoughts do not seem to flow.....

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DEBBIE SLEDGE AND THE DONOVANS: A MUSICAL LEGACY

I was in the audience wondering what to expect from the large group of retirees slowly gathering on stage. I’ve sat through many concerts by professionals and mature choral groups and have heard both triumphant and disappointing performances. This group, more than 100 strong, looked somewhat ragtag. Looks are deceiving, but they are not a sign of musical talent. The group settled in and began tuning their voices. Introductions were made, the conductor entered the hall and the audience hushed.

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COMEDY CAN BE A PRESCRIPTION FOR RETIREMENT WELLNESS

Tears streamed down my cheeks. I could not stop laughing. I was watching a Jim Carey movie and yes, he was “beating himself up.” It wasn’t the first time I’ve laughed until I cried while watching a funny movie. Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Henny Youngman, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Robin Williams and many more comedians have given me the gift of laughter.

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behind a legacy of musical involvement for an entire community. Its continued success and increasingly large numbers of involved older adults proves that even those without musical experi- ence will embrace opportunities to sing, play and listen to music in its varied forms if given the chance. That is good, since musical involve- ment can provide many benefits for older adults.


Music therapy began in earnest during World War II, where it found widespread use in the treatment of post-traumatic stress. Its calming effect was well documented and it helped many former soldiers learn to better cope with stress. It was not a cure. Now, 50 years later, after decades of research and technological advances, music therapy is used with Alzheimer’s patients and older adults with depression with positive results.


Utilizing i-Phone technology, music therapists program musical selections designed for specific purposes. For example, Alzheimer’s, a progressive disease affecting the brain, may cause advanced patients to wander, become loud or disruptive and even demonstrate violence toward others. The behaviors are normally uncontrollable, but music and the i-Phone calm the patient and external evidence of agitation disappears. Again, music therapy is not a cure but a treatment that helps keep the Alzheimer’s patient, fellow residents and staff safe.


Therapeutic use of music serves only some of the aging population. While some people argue all music can be therapeutic, large numbers of older adults searching for creative experiences within the music area who do not need to be treated therapeutically. Writing music, interpretation through vocal and instrumental performance and listening activities provide numerous ways to explore creativity through music.


Writing music, poetry, fiction or essays requires similar thinking but all use different languages. Music uses the language of sound, rhythm and tempo with a great deal of emotion thrown in for good measure. All are motivated by the way individuals relate to their environment. All creativity grows from what you see, how you interact with people and events and your inner feelings and beliefs. Take, for example, the song “I’ve Got Tears in My Ears from Lying on My Back in Bed While I Cry Over You.” All creative experience grows in some way from a person’s emotional attachment to and their involvement within an environment.


Those singing or learning to play an instrument for the first time will go through “growing pains” as they explore the learning process. But the simple act of involvement provides each individual the satisfaction of learning to creatively interpret the music they are singing, playing or writing, participating in creative experiences that provoke the thinking processes necessary for successful aging.    

 I was in the audience wondering what to expect from the large group of retirees slowly gathering on stage. I’ve sat through many concerts by professionals and mature choral groups and have heard both triumphant and disappointing performances. This group, more than 100 strong, looked somewhat ragtag. Looks are deceiving, but they are not a sign of musical talent. The group settled in and began tuning their voices. Introductions were made, the conductor entered the hall and the audience hushed.


 “Be kind,” I reminded myself as I leaned slightly forward. I knew after the very first note I was in for a treat. The performance was great, the voices strong and clear and the musical interpretation of the wide-ranging program excellent. A hundred-plus senior adults, many in their 90s, most without formal musical or vocal training, gave the audience a musical potpourri of extraordinary quality. Surely they were not new to the stage. There must have been a history of musical involvement that led them to this point in their development.


 The Donovan Chorus began quite by accident in the late 1970s as part of the University of Kentucky’s Council on Aging/Donovan Scholars Program. I had been appointed director of the program while I continued to teach art education classes. Bernard, newly graduated from Cornell University, arrived with his wife, Debbie, to join the art education faculty. I got to know Bernie during the following year. Debbie was busy raising her first child but traveled most weekends and occasionally for longer periods. Bernie sometimes mentioned his wife was out of town but never gave the reason for the trip, until one day he let slip that Debbie sang with her sisters and was on her way to Las Vegas for an engagement. Debbie was a member of Sister Sledge. If you remember the song “We Are Family,” you remember Sister Sledge. How wonderful, I thought, to have such a talent so near.


 We had reviewed the activities offered by the Donovan program and found several areas in need of expansion. The program had many visual art classes, an active lecture series called the Forum and a two-week-long summer writers’ workshop. There were few other opportunities for senior adults to develop creative thinking. Notably missing were opportunities for theater and musical involvement. We immediately began designing programs to meet those needs. Radio Drama began soon after, but designing a musical experience proved to be more difficult. I had no idea how to identify a director who might bring out the best vocals with untrained voices. But then, creativity took hold.

DEBBIE SLEDGE AND THE DONOVANS: A MUSICAL LEGACY

“Why not ask Debbie?” I thought. Maybe she could help. My opportunity to consult her quickly arrived. “Debbie, how would you like to direct our first chorus?” I asked. “We have six people who would like to sing.”


“I can’t do that,” replied Debbie. “I don’t read music. How could I possibly teach others?”


“How are you able to sing professionally?” I asked.


Debbie, it turned out, learns her arrangements by rote, singing what she hears and practicing hours at a time until her part is perfect. The difficult weekly schedule also proved to be a problem. We were able to work around it and convinced Debbie that learning to sing by rote would be a plus for our beginning students, thus enabling the first Donovan Chorus to begin. The chorus rapidly expanded in popularity and size. No wonder I sat amazed (and gratified) as I watched its performance that day.


 It has been more than 40 years since this simple caring act by Debbie Sledge left

DONALD HOFFMAN

Donald Hoffman is the former director of the Donovan Scholars/ Council on Aging at the University of Kentucky and author of Arts for Older Adults: An Enhancement of Life.

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