It is an unseasonably warm Wednesday afternoon. Residents from Fellowship Home at Meriwether’s memory care unit are escorted outside by staff to comfortable chairs waiting for them. Windows are opened so that residents who prefer to remain inside can still be part of the action about to take place.
In a clear plastic tent near the seating area, two musicians begin to perform. They spend the next hour entertaining their audience with old favorites like “Tequila,” “Hound Dog,” “You Are My Sunshine,” “Hey, Good Lookin’,” “Leaving on a Jet Plane” and more. In between songs, they talk to each other and their audience and make jokes. While they play, residents tap their feet, clap and sing along. Some even get up and dance.
Matt Seymour is a graduate student from Augusta, Ga., and Reed Tanner is a senior from Carrollton, Ga. Both men are part of the music therapy program at Georgia College and come to Fellowship Home twice each week as part of a practicum for one of their music therapy courses. The purpose of the practicum work is for the aspiring music therapists to gain real-world experience in their field by applying concepts from their coursework directly to working with actual clients. For their current course, they are required to work specifically with an adult population, and Fellowship is where they are making this happen.
“Honestly, the aspect of helping others using music as a tool and bringing joy to the residents here is so fulfilling,” said Tanner.
Music therapy uses the power of song to reach patients in distinctive ways that other therapies cannot replicate.
“Music therapy’s broad-stroke goal is to use music to reach non-musical goals,” explained Seymour.
Seymour further explained that early studies in neurological music therapy have shown an increase in the number of neurons firing during certain activities when musical elements are added to the therapy routine. Music therapy can be used, for example, to help stroke victims improve their gait by having them walk to a rhythm and measured tempo. Music therapy can also be used with memory care patients to trigger memories by association through song.
With the residents at Fellowship Home at Meriwether, Seymour and Tanner have been attempting to meet their needs for socialization, something that has been made even more important than normal because of the restrictions placed on visitations due to the pandemic.
“A need for these residents is social interaction,” said Tanner. “When we come out here, they are just so happy to see us, and we are happy to see them, and it just is a really good feeling to bring joy to them.”
While having music therapy students working at facilities such as Fellowship Home is nothing new, social distancing regulations have created new and significant challenges for students such as Seymour and Tanner. Both men worked with the facility’s staff to come up with creative solutions for this semester’s practicum.
“While we were thinking about what this semester would look like, we came to the idea that we would do window concerts,” said Seymour.
Seymour and Tanner come to Fellowship each Monday and Wednesday afternoon. They started the semester out by performing outside the windows of residents in the assisted living section of the facility. They were so well received that Fellowship Executive Director Lauren Sills soon asked them to perform outside the windows of the memory care unit as well. As the weather continues to warm up, new ideas, such as using the clear plastic tent, have allowed Seymour and Tanner to perform in closer proximity to residents without compromising anyone’s safety.
Fellowship’s Director of Resident Care, Jared Norrod, says that he and the rest of the Fellowship staff are grateful for the relationship between the Georgia College program and the facility.
“We have students each semester that come and sing and do music therapy for them,” said Norrod. “They do a great job, and the residents love them. It gives them something to do, and it just makes them feel better, honestly.”
Norrod feels the impact of the therapy is especially profound during the pandemic.
“It can be difficult to cope with what’s going on in the world right now,” said Norrod. “Them coming and doing this music really uplifts them and their spirits.”
Seymour and Tanner recently received their second doses of the COVID-19 vaccination, and they are thrilled that this will soon allow them to start doing their practicum hours inside the facility.
“We’re both very grateful for the ability to get our vaccinations that will allow us to go inside and be more individualistic but still with safe distancing,” said Seymour.
Both men say that the smiles and positive response they have gotten from the residents each week have made working through the challenges of social distancing rewarding for them.
“When we come up here and we see them just jumping up and down and clapping … there’s not another feeling like it,” said Tanner.