ArtSmart mentor Liana Gineitis' eyes were opened to the power of music when she started performing in assisted living homes for seniors battling Alzheimer's disease and dementia.

    I always loved the saying, “when words fail, music speaks”, but I had no idea how pertinent it would become in my life as a professional singer. As a child, I learned to channel my emotions through song. In school, I learned to portray a character through musical theater and opera roles. In college, I fell in love with the impact live musical performances had on me, both as an audience member and as a performer. I loved communicating with an audience because music seemed to be the one thing that truly connected everyone in the room. The culmination of all of these things became apparent when I discovered the Songs by Heart Foundation.

The Songs by Heart Foundation was established in 2015 by singer Nancy Gustafson. It is a not-for-profit that uses music to reach seniors battling Alzheimer’s and Dementia through song. I began singing with Songs by Heart in 2016, and it has opened my eyes to how deeply music can impact human beings on a personal level. In each session, I get to hear people speak when they haven’t spoken in months, and see them dance when they normally wouldn’t get out of their wheelchair. They laugh, joke, and smile when none of these things are guaranteed in their daily lives. This is because music affects all areas of the brain, and the memories connected to music are not necessarily lost.

“Let Me Call You Sweetheart” is a love song that was published in 1910. It’s a popular tune with Songs by Heart audiences because many of the residents grew up singing it. One day I sang it, as I normally do, but this day I witnessed a beautiful connection between a resident and his wife. He normally doesn’t sing along; he just observes, but this day he was singing every word to his wife. She came up to me after the session, eyes filled with tears. She told me, “That was our wedding song. I didn’t know he remembered it. Today, he knew who I was, he told me he loves me, and he sang to me.”

This is one of many stories seen daily in the Songs by Heart community. Even when a resident doesn’t know why they know each word to a song, the mere act of singing together brings joy and warmth to their heart, creating a sense of peace and connection. I feel so privileged to see how clearly music can connect two strangers in an instant. If we all sang together regularly, I like to believe we would have a more empathetic world.

Singing with Songs by Heart has taught me the importance of connection through music. It continues to inform my teaching with empathy and focus for each student. I hope to empower my students to learn to communicate through their music. In singing, musical expression is most effective through healthy vocal production. My goal is to help my students sing freely so that they may reach others with their beautiful, unique, and special voices.

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By ArtSmart Mentor, Liana Gineitis  |  Published on 04/16/2020