Good Memories by Veronica Cook

Good Memories by Veronica Cook

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Guest blogger Veronica Cook and I share in the joys and benefits of the Good Memories Choir in Chicago. Veronica reflects here on her musical life.  


 

When I was a child, we weren’t what you’d call a musical family, but there were always songs. It might have been my big sister boogying around with her finger in the air to Jeepers Creepers, Where’d you Get Those Peepers. Or my mother and I humming along with a light opera song on the radio (O Rosemarie, I  love  you…). All through my life there have been refrains to hum. However in the last few years, while a tune may have played in my head, my voice was having a hard time matching it. Wonderfully enough, it’s coming back little by little because I’ve joined the newly-formed Good Memories Choir.

I now can hear myself carrying the harmony.

At the beginning of each new concert season comes a whole new repertoire of tune fragments to spin around in my brain. At Christmas it was the haunting lyrical tenor of Ose Shalom; the beginning of White Christmas …there’s never been such a day-ay, in Beverly Hills L.A…; and the upbeat conclusion of Go Tell It on the Mountain …that Jesus Christ is born-orn, that Jesus Christ is born-orn.

As I reflect on my choir, a theme emerges that is much more than any one song or one concert. In fact, it’s more than even the music. Founders Jonathan and Sandy Miller have begun a far reaching and profound community. It is heartening to recognize each of us has a hand in shaping this new creation.

The Good Memories website describes the choir as “… a fun, upbeat community where people with early-stage memory loss and their care partners sing together, enjoying familiar music they love.” Yet, there are no one-size-fits-all categories describing the folks in this choir. Unique life circumstances puts everyone at a different way-station along the journey into aging.

I’ve become aware that in the struggle with physical and cognitive decline, we differ only in degree. Likewise, the loneliness and isolation that can so often accompany the onset of memory loss is something that all of us experience in some form. The support, encouragement, the warmth of friendship that we exchange are grace-filled gifts for us all.

Tuesday morning gatherings that get us started seem deceptively simple and down to earth. We are welcomed by the familiar smiles of fellow choir members as we gather in our rehearsal room. We cluster around the coffee pot, savor an array of sweet and savory homemade snacks. There is a collage of expectant faces, the beaming smile of one, the delighted greeting from another, the oohs and aahs over special treats. Compliments are exchanged: earrings, a new coat, a sweater pattern. We catch up with each others’ news. We are at home here, surrounded by new friends. And then it’s time to warm up with Oh What a Beautiful Morning! 

Always front and center is the music. Singing! Having come close to my voice deserting me, I glory in what this means: making a melody emerge from within my being, and even better, to make it harmonize with others. Joining our voices in song is central. This is the precious gift we give and receive from each other.

I stole a look at the Spring 2020 Good Memories repertoire. I invite you to come hear us on May 12th at 12:00 noon, Fourth Presbyterian Church, 126 East Chestnut St, Chicago. You’ll hear Waitin’ for the Light to Shine, Kol Haneshama Tehalel Yah Bonia Shur, Storm is Passing Over, What a Wonderful World, Long Ago and Far Away, Bridge over Troubled Water and the finale that says it allHow Can I Keep from Singing! 


Join a Choir! If you live in the Chicago area, click here.

If you live elsewhere, check out the worldwide Giving Voice Initiative (GVI). If you don’t see a chorus listed near you, start your own!  www.givingvoicechorus.org.

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Just in Time, I Found You Just in Time

Just in Time, I Found You Just in Time

I used to ignore articles that say cognitive decline slows if I eliminate sugar or play bridge. I found work-arounds instead. When I lost my numbers I set up automatic bill payments with the bank. I can never remember if choir practice is on the fourth or fifth floor; I simply follow my fellow singers. And I rely on my phone or friends to tell me the dates and times of my appointments, events and plans.

Memory loss has been gradual. I’m in good company though—my friends and I laugh Unknownwhen we can’t remember the name of the movie we just saw. But when I started hyperventilating with disabling anxiety in airports and receiving bizarre Chinese packages I’d ordered from ads on Face Book, I called Northwestern Hospital to see a
neurologist.

“Someone will call you back,” the receptionist said.

“Can’t I just make an appointment?”

“No. Someone needs to do an intake over the phone first.”

“I’ll wait.”

“No. Someone will call you.”

I missed the callback. Called again. Missed again. And again.

I felt like I was racing against the clock. Processing the TV news was becoming difficult. It moved too fast and I couldn’t retain information from one sentence to the next. To understand NPR’s Morning Edition, I had to stop getting dressed or making my bed, sit down with a cup of coffee and listen. Reading the news wasn’t impossible, just clunky. Some words on the page faded. Some didn’t. I went to the eye doctor three times within six months. She told me there was nothing wrong with my eyes or my vision.

I consulted Dr. Google. Indiscriminate shopping, getting lost, difficulty with numbers or language as well as forgetting dates, names and places are all a part of the normal aging process called cognitive decline. Researchers say eat right, exercise, socialize and learn something new to keep your brain from slipping past the point of no return. Some say singing actually heals the brain, so I joined the Good Memories Choir.

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Jonathan and Sandy Miller • Founders of Good Memories Choir               Fourth Presbyterian Church • Chicago

On the first day I hesitated accepting my songbook. Would I remember to bring it to weekly rehearsals? Would I even remember the day and time of weekly rehearsals? People asked me what “part” I sang. I had no idea.

“I have to sing the melody,” I said.

Alice sat next to me in the last row of the soprano section. I love to sing along but I know nothing about music. The singing was running ahead of me—I couldn’t catch the words. After singing a few songs, Alice showed me the soprano lines and suggested I highlight the words. She told me to sing the notes with the stems pointing up. I focused. I was learning a new language.

Good Memories is a choir of people with early-stage memory loss, their care partners and volunteers. I met the Google criteria for cognitive decline but I didn’t have an official diagnosis. I joined as a volunteer, unsure where, or even if, I fit. After singing every week for over a year, I never forget my songbook, the lyrics are nailed to the page and I follow the notes.

One of the first songs we sang, The impossible Dream, seemed impossible for me. There were too many words too close together. At the concert I sang every word. And Alice whispered, “You made it.”

Yes, I did. Just in time.

 


Learn more: Five Symptoms of Cognitive Decline

Join a choir! Jonathan Miller, Artistic Director of Good Memories Choir will help find one in your area. Contact him.


Treat yourself. Watch Judy Garland sing Just In Time

Shallow, I’m Into The Sha-la-la-low Now

When the attendant told me I was at the wrong gate, I froze. I’d been at Midway Airport for two hours waiting to fly to Salt Lake City for my granddaughter’s 2018 graduate school graduation. My vision blurred, my legs shook and I gaped at him without speaking. I actually couldn’t hear him. Someone grabbed my arm and raced me over to the correct gate just before the jetway closed. Inside the plane, I was escorted to Row A
where they keep an eye on people. th-4

I traveled twice more that summer. Once I was in the wrong TSA line, so confused that a stranger brought me to where I needed to go, again. I’ve since developed a phobia, thanks to nightmarish remembrances of Tom Hanks in the movie Terminal—about a man who lives in the airport after he is denied entry into the US.

A friend who works for O’Hare tells me airport workers regularly experience confused old people wandering around lost and panicked. I’ve traveled a lot in my life but familiarity with airport commotion holds no weight now.

When I first retired, I was unsympathetic to people with cognitive disorders. I joined the morning exercise classes at church but not to make friends. I told myself I wasn’t like those old people. Well, those old people have subsequently shown me how to be old, have compassion for those who talk slower than I do, who will never remember my name nor I theirs, nor the title of the book we just read or the movie we all saw. Our get-th-7togethers are often hilarious games of 20 Questions where we all guess what someone is trying to remember.

There’s just not enough room for all the bits lodged in my aging brain. A mysterious natural phenomena controls the shedding and changing of my grey matter, like menstruation and menopause in my body. Trouble is, the shedding seems to be more active these days. Oh sure, curiosity fills my brain with new information but its cells refuse to let those memories form and what I learned yesterday is soon forgotten.

One technique I use to block braincell destroyers is to ignore anxiety-producing articles that say cognitive decline slows if I eliminate sugar or learn chess. Perhaps the content is correct, but I’m possessed of my own version of old age, not a researcher’s cookie-cutter version. Similarly, I cast off brain-shrinking agitations delivered by younger friends who tsk me for walking too slow or for asking them to speak up. 

However, I love music so I responded to an article about choir singing strengthening the memory and joined the Good Memories Choir. Singing won’t get me back in airports, but learning music keeps me attached to the real world. In Bradley Cooper’s remake of A Star Is Born, Lady Gaga sings about the love of the two main characters as “far from the shallow now,” as if the brain has no choice but to deepen the couple’s experience. In my case, like the reversed flow of the Chicago River, I have no choice but to spill out of the deep and into the shallow now.

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For those who don’t understand my title, I give you, with love, Shallow