Wednesday, July 10, 2013

"I Knew Every One of Those Songs!"

Here are the most common things Claire and I hear from the audience members after our "When Swing Was King" shows:

"Thank you so much. I loved it."

"That brought back so many memories. Thank you."

"Oh, that was such wonderful music. And the pictures were delightful too. I always enjoy myself so much at your show."

"The things you tell us about the songs and the musicians are so interesting. Thank you for taking all that time just for us."

See the threads that run through these comments? Gratitude. Kindness. Courtesy. Respect. Indeed, it is such a delight for us to enjoy the fellowship of such a classy group of people who so charmingly practice the social graces of an age almost gone.

And we get to experience that 13 times every month. Neat, huh?

There are a lot of other things we hear too. We are told stories of their adventurous lives, stories about families, careers, dancing and romancing, war, travels, changes, triumphs and loss, happiness and sorrow.

And then there's this line, one we hear from an audience member or two almost every time we present a "When Swing Was King" program -- "I knew every one of those songs!" The line is usually delivered with a big grin but sometimes with a pensive gaze back into their lives. It is a heartwarming thing to hear. For we know it stands for something besides pride, something even beyond the comfort of familiarity.

Indeed, it stands as a positive testimony to the significance of the life they have lived. The world has passed them by. It doesn't remember (let alone honor) the times they lived, the achievements they made, or the culture they enjoyed. But suddenly, Helen Forrest begins to sing or Harry James begins to blow, and they remember, "Yes, we were there. Life wasn't always easy and we worked hard but there were good times too. And we appreciated them. And, even if no one else is around with whom I enjoyed those days, these songs help me to remember and cherish them."

No wonder they're grateful to people who are trying to keep the music and memories of earlier times vibrant, fun and available to them. No wonder they so quickly become our friends, knowing that our efforts in bringing them "When Swing Was King" reflect not just our respect for the art of that era but for them as important, valuable persons.

"I knew every one of those songs" thus becomes the highest compliment they could bestow, a warm acknowledgement that each song we had selected was relevant and appreciated.

And yet, there is one other element to this particular phrase that I think makes it so common and so meaningful.  It's not a surprise to anyone that many of the residents of senior living facilities struggle with memory loss. It's both a part of physical aging (little can be done about that) and an inevitable product of lifestyle changes which have reduced mental stimulation. But something can be done about that...even something as simple as "When Swing Was King." For the music, the visuals, the stories, and the direct conversation which make up the ministry give these seniors a variety of memory stimulants.

Everyone finds satisfaction in remembering. Everyone likes to scratch the itch, to fill the hole, to put back in their mind that elusive item that's just past their reach. But for seniors, those who live daily with various levels of the frustration of forgetfulness, how terrific it is to discover that, by golly, "I knew every one of those songs!" It's a vindication, a proof that not everything has slid into the mist. It's a nice scratch to the itch.

Wanna' join in this pleasant process of stimulating, reminding, befriending? The monthly schedule for "When Swing Was King" is always up at the Vital Signs website. We (and they!) would love to have you. Plus, there's a special event coming up this Sunday evening in Ashland to which you are cordially invited. It will be a great time. Check out the mini-poster below and consider coming to join us.