Feeding The Soul With Music And Art

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Friday, June 26, 2015 5:13 pm EDT

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The Courier

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The halls of Sunrise Senior Living have been filled with the strains of patriotic songs and hymns the past few weeks, thanks to veteran actor-director Alan Bomar Jones. The Dayton man is serving as the artist-in-residence at the senior care facility through a pilot program with the Ohio Arts Council. Locally, the program is coordinated by the Arts Partnership of Greater Hancock County. “I love working with seniors,” said Jones, 59. “I’ve always had the ability to talk and relate to seniors and engage with them.” A professional actor, director and short film producer, Jones has appeared in over 65 professional theater shows. He appeared in “Crowns,” presented by the Human Race Theatre Co. of Dayton, where he is a resident artist. He also uses his vocal skills as a narrator to produce books on CD. Jones recently completed a similar residency at the Laurels of Toledo. He said he enjoys seeing changes in the residents over the course of the program. “The wonderful thing about doing what I do, I am blessed to be able to see the metamorphosis of the people and how much they enjoy the music,” he said. A closing ceremony culminating the two-week residency will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday in the dining room at Sunrise, 401 Lake Cascades Parkway. In addition to musical performances, residents will talk about what the experience has meant to them. Jones will also play a recording he made of some of the residents’ stories along with snippets of the music they enjoy. “Then people can see they were really very much engaged in this process,” he said. The idea to do senior residencies developed out of meetings with the National Center for Creative Aging in Washington, D.C., said Chiquita Mullins Lee, arts learning coordinator for the Ohio Arts Council. “One of the things they have been thinking about was just how to engage elders and seniors in creative art making,” she said. They reached out to 13 states, including Ohio. Funds were provided to bring nine residencies to senior living facilities in the state. Mullins Lee said it’s a change in thinking because the residency program generally focuses on young people in schools. “Part of the strategic planning for the arts council is lifelong learning, so whether you’re preschool or whether you’re senior, we want to engage you in hands-on art making,” she said. “So I thought, if we’re doing this with the schools, we can do this with senior adults, too. And we’d actually done some residencies in some nursing homes and facilities like this, so it made sense to me.” The residencies in Ohio range from visual arts and dance to theater and music. “We have an artists’ roster at the Ohio Arts Council with about 100 people and eight different disciplines, so we have a lot of resources that we can pull from to send people out to places like this,” Mullins Lee said. Her office contacted the Arts Partnership, and with the help of executive director Peggy Grandbois and Craig VanRenterghem, education director, they connected with Sunrise Senior Living. Music was chosen for the residency because it’s something the residents enjoy, VanRenterghem said. “We decided to go with something they’re passionate about and love so much,” he said. He noted the arts partnership is also in the process of expanding its programming from preschool through senior citizens. “So we thought why not jump on board with this, and get going with it so we can keep expanding it after the two weeks are over,” he said. Jones’ two-week residency is focusing on patriotic and church music, and he has been working with two groups in particular, including those in assisted living and memory care. He meets with each group an hour a day, five days a week. “Once they come in and I greet them, it’s important to get them talking because once they feel like they can talk or tell you stories or ask questions, then they welcome you in,” he said. With each recording he plays, Jones tells a little history about the song. “I keep it short because what they don’t want is a lecture,” he said. “They want someone who’s going to give them a little information, so I edit it down where there’s just enough information. By the time they’re tired of hearing me, then here’s the song. Then we talk a little bit more about it.” Sometimes a song will bring back memories a resident wants to share with the group, he said. For example, one woman asked if he could play the Lord’s Prayer because she remembered when a family member used to sing it. “I think that’s why this music program will be so successful because it taps into a part of them that allows them to go back in time, whether it’s a few years or to their childhood, and relive those moments and makes them want to talk about it,” said Jones. “I love that.” He also plays musical games with the groups such as “Name That Hymn”; Jones plays the beginning of a song to see if the group can identify it. “The memory group, I don’t go in with any expectations,” he said. “If they don’t know the answers, I’ll tell them and talk a little bit more about it, and then we will move on.” Goldean Gibbs, artful aging project coordinator with the Ohio Arts Council, said the residents enjoy listening to the music. “What we saw with that (memory) group, there was a lot of head nodding, toe tapping, kind of swaying,” she said. “They were listening and they were enjoying.” After the session finished, an employee commented that the music had noticeably calmed down the residents. Both groups have grown in number since the beginning of the residency June 17. Jones said that’s not unusual. “Once word gets around and they find out that this is a good program and it’s something they would enjoy, this room will fill up,” he said. The director of the Laurels told Jones that residents who usually stayed in their rooms would come out when it was time for his program to begin. “The music affects them,” he said. “I’ve seen them laugh, cry and then tell stories.” He also conducts daily professional development sessions for staff who work in assisted living and memory care, as well as for volunteers, family members and area artists. Organizers want to see the art experience continue once the residency is completed. “We hope they can take it throughout Findlay and Hancock County and start many different groups like this around our area,” said VanRenterghem. Mullins Lee said her hope is people see the potential of the program and support it. “We want the (nursing home) managers and the people who make the decisions to realize it’s important to continue to engage people in the arts throughout their lifetime,” she said. “We want them to recognize it’s not just giving them a place to stay, it’s not just giving someone food for their bodies. You also need to feed the souls, and the arts are able to do that.”

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