Perfect Harmony program connects older adults with music of youth

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Music always brings back memories.
“Perfect Harmony was developed five years ago by the Great American Songbook Foundation with the idea of returning to the way music was originally enjoyed – as a community experience in which family, friends and loved ones grabbed a piece of sheet music, gathered around a piano and enjoyed music together,” said Renée La Schiazza, director of programs for the Great American Songbook Foundation. “The songs that the Perfect Harmony program selects are aligned with the music that was popular when most older adults were in their late teens or early adulthood. Research suggests that music from this period of a person’s life has a special significance due to biological factors and life experiences that connect our memories to feelings we experienced during that transformational time. For older adults today, this tends to be music from the Great American Songbook, the most important and influential American popular songs, Broadway hits, and jazz standards from the early 20th century that have stood the test of time.”
La Schiazza, a Carmel resident and 2012 Carmel High School graduate, said over the last year, Perfect Harmony has evolved into an online resource to serve older adults in Indiana and across the U.S., especially those who are struggling with isolation and limited social engagement due to the COVID-19 health crisis. Family caregivers, activity directors, and other healthcare professionals from over one hundred eldercare organizations across the state of Indiana and as far as Canada take advantage of Perfect Harmony’s free online resources each month by signing up to receive monthly emails and accessing materials at TheSongbook.org/PerfectHarmony.

Allegra Hein, a board-certified music therapist, has been consulting with Perfect Harmony since 2018. (Wayne Images)

Indianapolis resident Allegra Hein, a board-certified music therapist, has been consulting with Perfect Harmony since 2018.
“The consultation I provide to Perfect Harmony is based on my clinical experience with older adults as the regional music therapist for Justus Senior Living,” Hein said. “Growing up in a family of professional musicians, I had early exposure to the benefits of music listening and participation. However, it was not until I started studying music therapy that I began to understand just how beneficial music can be when used as a therapeutic tool by a trained professional. In music therapy, we use music in a clinical setting to improve functioning in areas such as cognition, communication, physical skills, social skills, and mental and emotional health. It’s incredible how the brain’s processing of music, which occurs throughout the brain rather than in one localized region, can improve the quality of life of an individual needing to increase physical strength, regain speech after a stroke, maintain cognition, etc.”

Olivia Broadwater with her late grandmother Sara Broadwater

‘Singing for Smiles’

Olivia Broadwater, a 2020 Zionsville Community High School graduate, saw the impact music had on her grandfather with Alzheimer’s disease when she was younger.
“I would go to the nursing home and I would sing and dance for him in the room,” Broadwater said. “It got to the point where his abilities deteriorated and he couldn’t speak, or feed himself and he would look at the corner. He would always look up when I sang. It was the one thing that brought him back to us. That stuck with me because I realized at an early age how powerful music is.”
So when she had to create a platform when she was Miss Fall Festival’s Outstanding Teen in 2018 it occurred to her she should combine her passion for the Alzheimer’s Association and music. So she created “Singing for Smiles.”
“My grandmother (Sara Broadwater) recently passed away from Alzheimer’s and my other grandma (Diane Perkins) was recently  diagnosed with dementia,” Broadwater said. “It’s something that has been so relevant in my life. I think it’s been comforting for me to know I have music and it’s a way for me to continually reach them as well as continue to honor them through my work with organization and platform.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Broadwater was performing at nursing homes and memory centers. She sang with the Perfect Harmony program at an outdoor event in the summer of 2020.
“We sang outside at a Carmel nursing home,” she said. “We made a virtual show for nursing homes with some of my Ball State classmates and also made a link for the public with a link to my The Longest Day donation page for Alzheimer’s,” she said.
Broadwater, who will compete for Miss Indiana in June, was a Songbook Academy Top 10 finisher in 2018.

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