Duo use the power of song to help with healing
Debbie Nordeen, right, and Ruthie Rosauer are facilitators of Side By Side Singing.
By Gina Malone
Published: Friday, August 15, 2014 at 4:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, August 14, 2014 at 11:44 p.m.
For those who have lost pieces of their past or had their voices diminished by disease, making “joyful noises” may be beneficial. That’s what Ruthie Rosauer and Debbie Nordeen, facilitators of Side By Side Singing, believe.
This new group-singing initiative sponsored by the N.C. Center for Health and Wellness has held two programs in Asheville, and will hold its first six-week program in Hendersonville starting Wednesday, Aug. 20.
Nordeen and Rosauer call their singing sessions “soul food for the brain.” Nordeen majored in music education, and has taught voice, directed choirs and performed in musical theatre for the last 25 years. She is the artistic director for Womansong of Asheville, a women’s community chorus. She began researching singing programs for those with cognitive challenges in 2012 after hearing about a choir made up of Parkinson’s patients.
“I decided I’d like to be a part of a movement to create positive experiences for our aging population,” Nordeen said, “and to help reduce social stigma for those living with cognitive disorders. With my background as a choral director, I naturally couldn’t think of anything more powerful than singing together, because singing takes place in the now. Music is magical that way.”
Retired from careers as an editor, economist and attorney, Rosauer says music is not just about making beautiful sounds.
“It can have therapeutic value,” she said.
She plays clarinet with the Hendersonville Community Band and sings with Womansong. Her volunteer time with a musical therapist in a hospital setting led to an interest in how singing might help people with short-term memory loss, such as that which can occur with dementia, Alzheimer’s and brain injuries. Since then she has done research on the many ways singing is beneficial to everyone’s health.
Just about anyone can sing, Rosauer said, though many think they cannot. Studies show benefits such as the increase of antibodies and the anti-stress hormone hydrocortisone, decreased instances of depression, slowed heart rates and feelings of relaxation.
For those with dementia, additional benefits include short-term memory improvement, increased positive moods and improved sociability. And, because participants in these sessions are required to be accompanied by a care partner, Rosauer has been delighted by the unexpected joy many of those caregivers express at singing “side by side” with their loved one.
One caregiver said, “This experience has been something new that we can share together as a couple, and that means the world to me.” Another said that a loved one who had not spoken much in the days before the singing session “sang every word in every song.”
Sessions in Hendersonville will be open to another group of participants — those with Parkinson’s disease. One effect of Parkinson’s may be a stiffening of vocal chords. As a result, “voices get soft, speech gets slurred,” Rosauer said, and tones may become flattened. Studies suggest that singing helps with volume, pitch, diction, vocal speed and posture.
As Rosauer puts it, “Deliberate variation of dynamic range will be incorporated … to help those with Parkinson’s improve their vocal control.”
Vocal warm-ups and musical ice-breakers start each session. Lyrics are provided for the rounds and well-known songs that follow. The growing song list contains ones that participants most likely heard while in their teens and 20s.
“These are the songs they resonate with,” Rosauer said. There are familiar popular tunes such as “As Time Goes By” and “Embraceable You,” as well as hymns and folk and patriotic songs.
The singing lasts about an hour, Rosauer said, though often calls for “just one more” cause things to run over a bit. At the end, “while they’re all feeling good and positive,” she said, they hold a social time with refreshments for about 20 minutes.
Rosauer said that “over a dozen volunteers … have helped make Side by Side the delightful experience it is,” not only by helping with tasks such as sign-ins and handing out music, “but just as importantly by adding their voices to the singing.”
“The results have been amazing,” Nordeen said. “Many participants have remarked that Side By Side Singing is a high point in their week.” She and Rosauer are now working on a how-to guide for people wishing to start singing groups in their areas.
Sessions in Asheville generally drew 45 to 50 people. The sanctuary at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Hendersonville will hold many more if necessary. “The Unitarian congregation has been unbelievable,” Rosauer said, providing not only space but extra volunteers and refreshments.
Weekly sessions, lasting from 1:30 p.m. until 3 p.m., are free and require no pre-registration. They will be held at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at 2021 Kanuga Road. Parking is free and the sanctuary is wheelchair-accessible.
No singing experience or music-reading ability is required. Participants must be accompanied by a care partner.
For more information, contact Ruthie Rosauer at 715-797-2260, or visit http://www.SideBySideSinging.wordpress.com.