A pitch perfect performance

Emily Mongan
Emily Mongan

In my high school's theater department, the Wednesday night before a show officially opened was always reserved for a very special occasion: Senior Night.

Without fail, Senior Night was always one of the most fun performances we would do. The audience, filled with people's grandparents and busloads of residents from local assisted living apartments, was hands-down one of the most complimentary we would have during the show's run.

No time was this more evident than my junior year, when we did the classic staple of high school theater, “Bye Bye Birdie.”

As one could expect, the 17-year-old on stage singing “Put On A Happy Face” sounded nothing like Dick Van Dyke. A few people goofed up their dance moves, or mangled a line. And thanks to the ton of old-age makeup slapped on me pre-show by a girl on stage crew, I looked more like a melting zebra in a wig and a fur coat than this lady.

But even with these imperfections, from the praise we received when we went out in the lobby after the show you'd think we were all Tony nominees. People gave us hugs, reminisced about seeing the original movie when it first hit theaters and even sang us a few lines from the show.

”Bye Bye Birdie” struck a chord with the audience that night, in a much bigger way than it would when we'd perform it for our friends, family and classmates later that week (the same can't really be said for the next year's show, a murder mystery where the premise was shockingly similar to the movie ”Weekend at Bernie's” — but that's another story).

The show's charm recently won over residents at New York's Hebrew Home at Riverdale, whose glee club is releasing its first album this month. The group meets weekly to sing folk songs and showtunes, but it was the song “Kids” from “Bye Bye Birdie” that inspired the group to record their renditions, according to the New York Times.

The album, titled “Music Brings Us Together,” will be available on SoundCloud for a small fee, with proceeds going towards more activities at the facility. But the real benefits aren't the potential profits, or the press coverage the program is receiving as a result of the album's release.

The glee club's real magic, its members say, is its inclusive nature. Any resident can join in, no audition or prior experience needed. The members range in age from 79 to 100, coming from backgrounds that include a former radio singer and a home health aide.

“It's not only for the young,” one member told the New York Times. “It shows that our life is not ending; we are alive and kicking.”

And the benefits go beyond the obvious “feel good” aspect — new research shows singing can help improve mood and memory for residents with dementia.

The Hebrew Home glee club's album isn't likely to threaten Adele's chart-topping album any time soon, but I'd argue the joy it brings to the residents is greater than a gold record. The residents who perform on “Music Brings Us Together” are united by a sense of community, a love of music and even some hidden health benefits — and that's certainly something worth singing about.

Emily Mongan is a Staff Writer at McKnight's. Follow her @emmongan.

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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.

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