Composing a memorable winner

It all started with a suggestion from a resident in the memory care wing at Mercy Retirement & Care Center in Oakland, CA.

As a music therapist, Emily Sanderson uses songwriting as a therapeutic tool for Mercy’s memory care residents to express their thoughts and feelings. Sanderson was leading a songwriting session last year when one resident requested to have the songs performed by children.

“The idea to have students sing the songs was really an idea of the residents — many of them are retired principals and teachers and nurses,” Sanderson said.

Sanderson contacted a first-grade teacher at the nearby Corpus Christi School, and the plan was set in motion. The students practiced the songs for several months, leading up to a March performance for the entire Mercy community, including assisted living, skilled nursing and memory care residents. Sanderson played guitar to accompany the students, whom she said “hammed it up.”

The five songs performed ranged in topic from birds to respecting others, but Sanderson said the overall message was clear: The concert, and the creative freedom it gave the residents, was a success.

“Just looking out on the audience and seeing tears in their eyes  and the value and the wisdom of the words from our memory care residents, that was really cool to see,” Sanderson said.