Intergenerational music classes coming to Brooklyn Center senior residence

Music is considered to be the universal language, and the idea of uniting two disparate generations with the power of music seems like a no-brainer. One Brooklyn Center senior care facility is capitalizing on such an idea.

“Language is stored in a different part of the brain than music is, so seniors who are affected by memory disorders … will remember the words to full songs,” said Music Together Director Clarice Wilson. “The music touches a part of them emotionally or cognitively.”

Beginning March 18, the Brooklyn Center-based Ecumen Prairie Lodge senior residential community will host a 10-week series of classes presented by Music Together, a nationwide organization devoted to fostering an appreciation and understanding of music and dance in babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. Ecumen will be hosting Music Together’s Intergenerational music class, which will feature children and their parents singing and playing rudimentary instruments while Ecumen’s seniors observe and even join in.

“We’ve got parents and children in a circle, and then we have seniors in a larger circle around that,” said Wilson. “And they participate as fully as they’re capable. Some of the folks in memory care can’t, but are soaking it in anyway. About three times in class, we’ll use props, like shake rags, rhythm sticks, and children will take them over and give them to the seniors. If we have a dance, they’ll hold hands and dance. So (the seniors) are as involved as the full participants.”

The class features a maximum of 12 children who are accompanied by one parent or guardian, and the classes help children develop music skills via play and experimentation, listening to and joining along with a variety of musical genres such as folk, jazz and world music.

“It’s cognitively great for the children, because music learning supports all learning,” said Wilson. “There’s been great studies that show that music learning … helps them with language development, particularly with verbal fluency. It helps them with physical development, particularly with coordination.”

The program is mutually beneficial for seniors in Ecumen’s assisted living and memory care facilities as well, says Ecumen Life Enrichment Supervisor Michael Ashworth.

“When we bring up the ability to sing and to move and bring up songs that they know, it triggers other memories. It triggers the sense of rhythm, and people will start moving and start being coordinated in ways that they normally aren’t,” Ashworth said. “We have a fellow in the memory care unit who never shows any interest for music, but I put a little stick and drum in his hand, and all of a sudden he’s keeping the beat with me.”

The partnership between Music Together and Ecumen came to be after Ashworth discovered the program and its Intergenerational class in Lino Lakes.

“I really liked how it benefited the residents, so I thought it’d be a good way to connect with the community here,” said Ashworth. “Families will oftentimes come back year after year to the same location, so we could actually start building some relationships over the years.”

Aside from the musical and emotional benefits of the program, Ashworth believes that the much-needed connection between seniors and children will be a major win for Ecumen.

“We already have music programs that we do here, and they’re always beneficial,” said Ashworth. “But I think we can do even more, especially drawing kids into it. Kids bring a natural joy and energy into the building that I can’t create myself.”

A free demonstration class is 10 a.m. Saturday, March 18, with the regular 10-week classes beginning on Saturday, March 25. The 10-week course is $179 per child, which includes CDs and take-home materials. Ecumen Prairie Lodge is located at 6001 Earle Brown Drive.

For more information on Music Together, visit musictogetherclasses.org, or call Clarice Wilson at 651-439-4219.

Contact Christiaan Tarbox at [email protected]