Song Spotlight: “Yakety Sax”

Sax cartoon

  • Mood: Humorous, Farcical
  • Theme: Instrumental (no lyrics)
  • Tempo: Upbeat
  • Genre/Style: Pop-Jazz Instrumental

Here’s a purely instrumental song that goes a long a way in creating a certain energy in a group: “Yakety Sax.”

Written by James Q. “Spider” Rich and Homer “Boots” Randolph III, this song was popularized by Boots Randolph in his 1963 recording. Randolph plays the saxophone, and through the course of the song pays homage to several popular fiddle tunes.

The overall tone of the song is energetic and goofy, making it perfect for accompanying outlandishly humorous scenes in TV and film. In fact, “Yakety Sax” was used so frequently to accompany chase scenes on “The Benny Hill Show” that this song is sometimes recognized as “The Benny Hill Theme.”

How To Use This Song With Seniors

Since this song has no lyrics, it is a perfect accompaniment to movement to music experiences, because you can give verbal instruction without talking over the words in the song. Try adding some goofy movements and facial expressions along with your regular moves for some variety that fits the spirit of the song.

If ever you wondered how to use a vibraslap, slide whistle, or canary stick with a recorded song, know that this song also offers great openings for novelty instruments. Wait for the pauses and add those instruments as a humorous accent. This is a great, low-pressure way to offer solos to participants.

Finally, although there are no lyrics to discuss, you may certainly find yourself talking with participants about “The Benny Hill Show” or funny car chase scenes. For a visual element, choose several photos or movie stills of humorous adventures and invite participants to make up a story to fit the photo and music.

By the way, for some pure entertainment value, check out 15 Iconic Movie Scenes Ruined by “Yakety Sax.” It will definitely give you the sense of this song’s goofiness!

This post is part of an occasional series on special songs to share with your loved ones. For more song spotlights, click here.


Song Spotlight: “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue”

I work in eldercare settings, but that doesn’t mean all of my clients love Frank Sinatra and Hank Williams. In fact recently, I’ve been learning a bunch of of songs from the 1970s, so I can have new ways to connect musically with people in their 50s and 60s, who might be caring for loved ones in their 80s and 90s or on hospice or long-term care services themselves.

One tool I’m using is The Grammy Awards Song of The Year 1970-1979. As the title suggests, this songbook includes all of the songs nominated for the Song of the Year during the 1970s. Does that mean these are the best songs to use in music therapy for people who were young in the 1970s? No. But it’s an excellent place to start an exploration.

The song that has struck me recently was a 1977 hit for Crystal Gayle: Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue. Written by Richard Leigh, this song has a jazzy piano line that probably helped it to become Gayle’s first and biggest crossover hit. This song reached #1 on the country charts and #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, and it won Gayle a 1978 Grammy Award for Best Female Country Vocal Performance.

Uneasy senior woman praying for sick manThere are a few things about this song that work really well for clinical and caregiving situations:

Sing-ability. Another fun fact? This song was recognized by ASCAP in 1999 as being one of the ten most-performed songs of the twentieth century. That means a lot of people are doing live cover versions of this song, and I bet that’s because its narrow range makes this song pretty easy to sing.

Honest feelings and unanswered questions. This song is about someone leaving and the person being left not quite understanding why. One thing is clear: the singer is sad and lonely and trying to cope with it all. Beyond that, though, there is plenty of room for interpretation about the details of what happened. The listener can put a lot of their own feelings and experiences into this song.

Simple, repetitive lyrics. When you’re dealing with difficult feelings, sometimes all you can do is say how bad it feels. The repetition of the line “don’t it make my brown eyes blue” underscores the sadness and loneliness, while making the song more singable, too.

That crossover appeal. Because this song was popular with country and pop music audiences, chances are a lot of people will be familiar with this song. That makes it a good one for opening a discussion about love and loss, or starting a deeper musical exploration.

Try This: Songwriting Experience

This song also works quite nicely for a simple fill-in-the-blank songwriting experience.

Especially for family caregivers, this song could be a great container for some of the difficulties you’re experiencing in your caregiving work. Try adding your own words to this framework:

I don’t know when I’ve been so blue

Don’t know what’s come over you

You’ve __________________

And don’t it make my brown eyes blue

I’ll be _______________ when you’re gone

I’ll just ____________ all night long

Say it isn’t true

And don’t it make my brown eyes blue

Tell me ________________ and tell me ___________

Give me ________________, give me _____________

Tell me you love me and don’t let me cry

Say _____________ but don’t say ________________

I didn’t mean ____________________

I didn’t know ____________________

But honey ______________________

And don’t it make my brown eyes

Don’t it make my brown eyes

Don’t it make my brown eyes blue

Some of those phrases sound just like what I’ve heard from people who are caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s Disease or other forms of dementia:

I don’t know what’s come over you.

Tell me…

… you love me.

… you know my name.

… I’m doing the right thing.

I didn’t mean…

… to make you upset.

… to leave you alone.

… to get so angry.

I didn’t know…

…it would be this hard.

…it would end like this.

…how scared I’d feel.

I think there is comfort in having our deepest thoughts and feelings expressed through music. Perhaps using the framework of this song can give you some comfort in expressing your own experience.

What do you think of this song? What lyrics would you fill in the blanks? Leave a comment below, and let us all know.

This post is part of an occasional series on special songs to share with your clients and loved ones. For more song spotlights, click here.

Two Songs for the Holidays: One May Hurt, One May Help

The holidays can be an especially difficult time for those of us who can’t be HOME for Christmas. Sure, home means different things to different people, whether you’re a soldier deployed in Afghanistan, a young worker who can’t afford a plane ticket to mom and dad’s house, or an older woman in assisted living whose home was sold years ago. Wherever home is, though, if you can’t be there for the holidays, it hurts.

Today, I spotlight two songs about being home for the holidays. The lyrics have a similar message – that home is the best place to be for Christmastime – but the emotional underpinnings and context for each song are very different. Let’s compare and contrast these two songs:

320px-Writing_a_letterI’ll Be Home For Christmas

Written in 1943 with lyrics by Kim Gannon and music by Walter Kent, “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” was a top ten hit for Bing Crosby. It’s sung from the point of view of a solider fighting overseas for World War II. The listener imagines this soldier writing a letter home to his family, painting the picture of  a cozy, traditional family celebration complete with snow and mistletoe and presents under the tree. It’s in the very last line that the soldier admits to his reality: “I’ll be home for Christmas/if only in my dreams.”

The tone of this song is melancholy and wistful. Even if the lyrics seem optimistic on their surface, the music acknowledges what was true for the soldier in the original context, and what is true now for anyone else who can’t get home for Christmas: Sometimes all you can do is imagine the beautiful and perfect holiday that’s happening too far away.

(There’s No Place Like) Home For The Holidays

Wreath on fence in snowBy contrast, the 1954 song “Home for the Holidays” is pretty darn chipper. With music by Robert Allen and lyrics by Al Stillman, the song first was a hit for Perry Como. Later, The Carpenters and Barry Manilow recorded popular cover versions of this song.

The lyrics of this song focus on traveling home for a holiday celebration. The singer tells us about people traveling from all corners of the U.S. to get home. The song urges the listener to take a bus, a train, an airplane, or even the family car to get there, saying, “for the pleasure that you bring/when you make that doorbell ring/no trip could be too far.” The musical context is upbeat, too. It starts with a sentimental tone in Bing Crosby’s version, then takes on a jaunty and cheerful spirit. There is no mistaking the message here: Home is the best place to be, and if you want to be happy, you’d better get on your way.

Both songs anticipate a picture-perfect holiday celebration to come, but only one expects you to be there for the experience.

Certainly, there is a place for both songs. When you’re in a cheery, holiday mood, it’s wonderful to have cheery music to play and sing. “Home for the Holidays” is on my playlist for decorating the Christmas tree and driving to relatives’ house for holiday celebrations.

If, however, you’re caring for someone who can’t get home to the holiday celebrations they want, or if you can’t get home yourself, it’s worth considering which of these songs may provide comfort and which may cause heartache this year. Perhaps the message of “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” can provide some solace.

As the seasons of life come and go, each of us will have times to be home, and times when we are very far away. I hope that we all can find peace wherever we are this year.

Song Spotlight: “America the Beautiful”

"O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain"

“O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain”

“America the Beautiful” was first published in 1910 and has remained for more than a century one of our nation’s most beloved patriotic songs. It also has what I think is a beautifully American story.

This song has two stories of inspiration and creation: one for the lyrics and one for the music.


Katharine Lee Bates wrote the lyrics for this song, inspired by the sights on a cross-country trip.

The lyrics were written by Katharine Lee Bates in 1893. The English professor from Wellesley College took a train trip from Boston to Colorado Springs to teach a summer school session at Colorado College. On her way there, several sights served as inspiration: the White City of the Chicago World’s Fair, the ripe wheat fields of Kansas, and the view of the Great Plains from the top of Pike’s Peak. It was on that mountaintop that Bates began composing her poem, which she finished later in her hotel. Two years after that, the poem was published in The Congregationalist to honor the Fourth of July.

Although several existing pieces of music were adapted to fit the poem, the hymn tune “Materna” by Samuel A. Ward has been the most popular tune for setting this poem, and continues to be the most familiar today. Ward was also inspired to pen his tune, in his case on the ferry from Coney Island back to New York City after a lovely summer day in 1882. As the story goes, Ward was so eager to capture the melody in his head that he wrote it down on a fellow passenger’s shirtsleeve. (Presumably the other guy gave his permission!) Originally intending the melody for the old hymn “O Mother, Dear Jerusalem,” Ward retitled his tune “Materna.”

Samuel A. Ward wrote the music that eventually became the preferred setting for this song.

Samuel A. Ward wrote the music that eventually became the preferred setting for this song.

Unfortunately, Ward died in 1903, years before his melody and Bates’s poem were matched together to become one of the most famous patriotic songs in American history. Bates herself never met Wardl; but she did get to see the popularity of her song firmly established by the time of her death in 1929.

There are many reasons to love this song, especially for its American-ness.

  • The composers represent at least a small part of our nation’s diversity. Yes, they were both privileged white folk from the East Coast, but it is no small thing that one of the nation’s most beloved patriotic songs was written by an educated woman who never married (a “free-flying spinster” according to one friend) and a church musician who was the last in an unbroken line of men named Samuel Ward, the first of whom was a representative to the Continental Congress. To me, these two artists were both grounded in the nation’s history and reaching for a new future. What is more American than that?
  • These artists were inspired by a variety of sights across America, from Pike’s Peak to Coney Island. I love that this song represents the variety of landscapes across our country (including my special favorite – the “amber waves of grain” of Kansas).
  • This song has even been a political football. At various times in the last century, some people have tried to give “America the Beautiful” some sort of official status as a national anthem, on par with “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Some prefer this song’s peaceful lyrics over the battle imagery of the national anthem. Of course, for some, the reason for preferring “America the Beautiful” is musical rather than political:
  • “America the Beautiful” is more singable than “The Star-Spangled Banner,” according to some critics. I have to say I agree – I sing “America the Beautiful” with music therapy groups much more often than our official national anthem. The kind of song that everyone can sing together – no divas or sports stars required – that’s the kind of song that I think is truly American.

What do you think? Is “America the Beautiful” one of your favorite patriotic songs, or do you have another? For my friends not in America, what are the favorite songs to represent your country? Please leave your thoughts below.

Song Spotlight: “April Showers”

April showers...

April showers…

  • Mood: Hopeful
  • Themes: Rain, flowers, happiness
  • Tempo: Moderately slow
  • Genre/Style: 1920s popular song

As I write this, it’s yet another rainy day at the end of April. After last summer’s drought, I am glad for the rain, but I am also very ready for springtime to be here in full force. So, the song “April Showers” has been on my mind.

With music by Louis Silvers and lyrics by B.G. De Sylva, “April Showers” was first made famous by Al Jolson and has been recorded by many people since then. Here are the lyrics for the chorus:

Though April showers may come your way,
They bring the flowers that bloom in May.
So if it’s raining, have no regrets,
Because it isn’t raining rain you know, it’s raining violets.
And where you see clouds upon the hills,
You soon will see the crowds of daffodils;
So keep on looking for a blue bird and list’ning for his song,
Whenever April showers come along.

I love this song for its rich imagery and its accessibility on both concrete and abstract levels.

First, the concrete. This song mentions violets, daffodils, and even the quintessential bluebird of happiness. Even the cliched phrase, “April showers bring May flowers” provides an entree to conversation with folks with various stages of cognitive impairment. This is one of many songs I introduce in music therapy sessions to encourage participants to talk about gardening or signs of spring. It’s also helpful for directing people’s attention to the current weather conditions, not to mention the date on the calendar.

...bring May flowers

…bring May flowers

But I love the abstract level of this song, too. The overriding message of this song is that even though times may be tough now, there will be better times to come. In other words, life has its seasons, too, some which are lovelier than others. Personally, I think this is a more realistic offer of hope than the message that you should just keep smiling, even if you’re feeling bad. Here, we acknowledge the April showers of life – the clouds, the storms, the grayness – while holding out hope for and expectation of spring – the beauty, the new life, the colors and birdsong. Sometimes, focusing on the fact that dealing with challenges can bring us even greater strength may be what we need to get through a particularly difficult time.

What do you think? Do you like the “April Showers” analogy to changing life circumstances? What else do you see in this song? Please leave your comments below!

This post is part of an occasional series on special songs to share with your loved ones. For more song spotlights, click here.

Song Spotlight: “Suzy Snowflake”

  • Mood: Light
  • Themes: Winter, snow, play
  • Tempo: Cheerful
  • Genre/Style: Novelty song

I love cute winter songs. I know that many people put these away for the year along with the Christmas tree, but I still enjoy the ambience that songs like “Baby It’s Cold Outside” and “Winter Wonderland” bring to the season. (Plus, let’s face it – we’ve probably got more snow to come here in Kansas City.)

Here's my little snowflake!

Here’s my little snowflake!

Suzy Snowflake” is one of those cute winter songs that just gets stuck in your head. Written by Sid Tepper and Roy C. Bennett, this song was a hit in 1951 with the recording by Rosemary Clooney. A few years later, Centaur Productions released a cartoon short based on the song, using stop motion animation (a format I’m pretty sure I only see in Christmas specials). Some TV stations still broadcast this cartoon annually. (You can buy Rosemary Clooney’s version of the song from Amazon and watch the adorable cartoon on YouTube.)

I’m not sure how much cultural cachet this song holds today, because not too many of my seniors know it word for word the way they know “Silver Bells” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” For me, though, this song stands out among all the other Christmas novelty songs.

The melody of this song is quite simple, with a basic harmony using only three chords. This is the kind of melody that school-kids can easily learn on piano or xylophone. That makes it sound childlike to me – full of the wide-eyed wonder that little kids get when the world turns white with snow.

The lyrics underscore this childlike quality, with the notion of the snowflake coming to play, inviting you out to sled and build a snowman. The snow is nothing but fun and fresh in this song. Perhaps the only note of sadness is Suzy’s acknowledgment that, “I haven’t long to stay.”

Personally, I’m at the stage in life where snow is just kind of inconvenient. It keeps me from appointments and increases my worries about other drivers on the road. Maybe that’s where you are.

Maybe you are someone whose greatest fear is slipping on the ice and breaking something that just won’t heal anymore. For some, that fall can just be the beginning of a steeper decline. Snow is really scary when it might mean chronic health problems or a total change in lifestyle.

For some, though, snow is simply magical. Everything is white, and the world gets quiet. School gets canceled, and you wear special clothes so that you can lie down on the fluffy white stuff and make angels. You can throw snowballs that don’t hurt (much) or build a snowman. You might even ride a sled down a hill. When else does that happen?

It may not be safe or practical for you to play in the snow, but maybe there is a way to recapture that childlike wonder from this side of the window. “Suzy Snowflake” leads the way!

This post is part of an occasional series on special songs to share with your loved ones. For more song spotlights, click here.

Song Spotlight: “Blue Christmas”

Bare Christmas TreeSometimes the holidays are hard.

As much as we’d all love to live up to the pictures and stories we see on the holiday cards, jewelry store ads, and made-for-TV movies, that just really doesn’t happen to most of us, and definitely not every year.

Sometimes all the lights and decorations and red and green and cheesy sweaters and ho-ho-ho-ing just don’t make us feel cheery and bright. They’re oppressive or harsh, adding insult to the injuries we’re suffering, with loved ones who are sick or who have died, with lost jobs or broken relationships or Kodak moments that will just not ever happen again.

Sometimes we’re sad. Angry. Anxious. Guilty. Depressed.

Sometimes we’re blue.

If that’s the case this year, maybe “Blue Christmas” is the perfect holiday tune for you.

Written by Billy Hayes and Jay W. Johnson, this song was popularized in 1949 by Ernest Tubb, Hugo Winterhalther with his orchestra, and Russ Morgan with his orchestra. Of course, the most famous version of this song is probably the one by Elvis Presley.

Okay, so maybe this song seems cheesy from the sheer numbers of times you’ve heard it, but like many classic songs, the lyrics read differently depending on the circumstances of the listener. This is a song about unrequited love – a song for a lover who chooses not to be near – but in the lyrics, I also hear the words of someone who has lost a spouse or whose children aren’t coming to visit this year:

I’ll have a blue christmas without you
I’ll be so blue just thinking about you
Decorations of red on a green christmas tree
Won’t be the same dear, if you’re not here with me

I appreciate the songwriters’ acknowledgment of how painful it can be to be missing someone at this time of year. Whatever the traditions or special trinkets are for you and yours – the stockings to hang on the mantle, the handmade ornaments to go on the tree, the special cookie recipe that only comes out once a year – if you don’t get to share that special thing with those special people, it really hurts.

Decorations of red on a green christmas tree
Won’t be the same dear, if you’re not here with me

By sharing this song, I just want you to know that you are not alone. If you are having a blue Christmas this year, it is okay. Those feelings are real, and they are valid. You don’t have to make the season merry, and you’re not a Grinch or Scrooge for feeling this way. It is okay if you just focus on getting through the holiday.

If this Christmas is feeling too hard to handle, it may also be time to seek support from a mental health professional. I am just one of many professionals who want to help you get through this season of life.

I do wish you a very happy holiday season this year, but even if it won’t be happy this year, know that I’ll still be here to see you again in January.

Song Spotlight: “I’ve Got Plenty To Be Thankful For”

Thanksgiving can be a bittersweet day for caregivers.

On the one hand, the things you’ve lost can seem so much more GONE during the holidays, whether it is the first holiday season since a loved one’s death, the realization that Grandma just can’t make the sweet potato pie herself anymore, or a year when all the kids and grandkids are spread to the four winds, your husband is in the nursing home, and you’re opening a can of cranberry sauce just for yourself. I’ve spent time with many folks who are in the midst of sorrow.

On the other hand, feelings of gratitude can be all the more strong in the midst of loss and decline. Maybe you are thankful for your flexible boss who understands when you need to leave in the middle of the day to take care of a crisis. Maybe it’s gratitude that your husband is still with you and still laughing at your goofy jokes, even after the stroke that took away his ability to speak and tell his own jokes. Maybe you’re filled with gratitude every morning that your wife can sit with you at the breakfast table. I’ve heard many caregivers and seniors express enormous gratitude, even in the midst of health and financial problems that would bring anyone to their knees. They say that this is what gets them through to the next day.

Next week, I’ll share a new song with you, one that has been composed in pieces by several of the seniors I see for music therapy, one that is full of gratitude. This week, though, I’ll share Irving Berlin’s take on Thanksgiving in the midst of heartache, with the song “I’ve Got Plenty To Be Thankful For.”

This song is one of twelve original songs Irving Berlin wrote for the 1942 film “Holiday Inn,” which also included “White Christmas,” the best-selling single of all time. In this film, the main character Jim, played by Bing Crosby, has given up a life in show business to work on his farm. He decides to turn the farm into a country inn, open only for holidays. As he goes through his first year at the Holiday Inn, we hear songs for each season, all through the lens of Jim’s romantic and professional struggles. By Thanksgiving, he is depressed and lonely, having lost his sweetheart. He has been asked to write a song for a film about his Holiday Inn, which we hear as “I’ve Got Plenty To Be Thankful For.” This song is quite chipper compared to his mood, and as we hear the song in the movie, Jim has a negative comment to answer every positive notion in the song. Fortunately for Jim (and the viewer!), shortly after Thanksgiving, Jim makes it back to his love and we get a happy Hollywood ending.

Whether you’re in the new romance stage of life or not, I bet you can relate to this song, both at its face value and with how Jim experiences the song during the movie.

On its face, this song is all about simple happiness, the small things that fill you with gratitude for life and living. These are my favorite lines:

I’ve got eyes to see with
Ears to hear with
Arms to hug with
Lips to kiss with
Someone I adore

This song even has a dose of reality for those of us who are happy even without everything, with Bing Crosby singing, “I haven’t got a great big yacht to sail from shore to shore/But I’ve got plenty to be thankful for.” The song offers a way to feel gratitude for the smallest things in life.

Still, sometimes it’s hard to feel that gratitude. Check out how Jim reacts to hearing his own song:

In the context of the film, we see an understanding that just hearing a song like this doesn’t change how you feel. In fact, sometimes hearing the cheery talk of thankfulness may feel like rubbing salt in your wounds. Those feelings are just as valid as the happy ones, and it’s helpful to recognize and honor the bitter mixed in with the sweet.

So, we really can pull two lessons from this song:

  1. We do have plenty to be thankful for, and practicing gratitude can help us feel thankful, even when things aren’t perfect.
  2. Gratitude and sadness are both valid feelings, and they can co-exist. You can choose gratitude, but it’s okay that you just don’t feel thankful sometimes.

What kind of feelings are you having as you approach Thanksgiving this year? Are you full of gratitude to the point of bursting? Or do you have some sadness or fear or regret mixed in?

No matter how you are feeling this year, please know that I wish you and yours a good Thanksgiving.

Song Spotlight: “Beer Barrel Polka”

Photo via Heather / CC-BY-SA-3.0

  • Mood: Giddy
  • Themes: Drinking Beer, Dancing, Having Fun
  • Tempo: Upbeat
  • Genre/style: Polka

Quick question: Which country does the “Beer Barrel Polka” come from?

Answer: Czechoslovakia. You’ll be forgiven, though, if you thought it came from somewhere else.

The “Beer Barrel Polka” is the first polka song I ever learned, and it’s the most familiar polka among my clients here in Kansas City. The polka is a dance that originated in the mid-19th century in Bohemia. The dance gained popularity quickly and soon spread all over the world, from Poland to Paris to Peru. The dance gained a resurgence in popularity during and after World War II, when immigrants from Eastern Europe flooded the United States.

The “Beer Barrel Polka” is one of the songs that became popular during this resurgence of “polkamania.” The music was composed by Czech musician Jaromír Vejvoda in 1927 and first arranged by Eduard Ingriš, with the title Modřanská polka (“Polka of Modřany”). The first lyrics appeared seven years later, by Václav Zeman who retitled the song Škoda lásky (“Wasted Love”), and by 1939, “Beer Barrel Polka”, as recorded by Will Glahé, reached #1 on the Hit Parade. The song has since been recreated in many other languages and was popular with soldiers during World War II across the world, no matter their alliances. Even today, the song remains popular, especially in the state of Wisconsin, where it has been played during the seventh inning stretch at Milwaukee Brewers baseball games, at numerous University of Wisconsin sporting events, as well as Green Bay Packers home games, and Milwaukee Panthers basketball games.

What makes a tune like this so popular? I can’t say I know for sure, but I have a few suspicions:

1. The raucous sound. I would almost call it goofy, but that might be evidence of my generational bias. Polkas are typically in 2/4 meter, and they tend to be quick. It’s the sound of fun, of a party, and certainly the English lyrics describe a particularly wild affair.

2. The drive to dance. Polkas are for dancing, and the relentless perkiness of polka music makes sitting still rather challenging. Even if you can’t get up and dance like Lawrence Welk does in this video, you can hardly help tapping your toes. And moving to music feels good.

3. The cultural ties. Various immigrant groups have claimed “Beer Barrel Polka” as one of their own cultural touchstones, and hearing the accordion and tuba play this song brings you back into the fold, even if your family has been thoroughly Americanized for years.

I’ve been playing recordings and singing “Beer Barrel Polka” frequently in the last few weeks, in celebration of Oktoberfest. You can use this song, too! Here are a few ideas:

  • Play a recording to spark memories for people of Eastern European origin. You might not even know a senior has roots in Eastern Europe until you play this song!
  • Show a video or photograph of people in traditional dress, dancing the polka. I like this Lawrence Welk clip, but examples abound on YouTube.
  • Discuss topics related to the song. You might ask, are you a beer drinker? Do you like dancing? Have you ever danced the polka? When did you learn it? Have you ever been to Oktoberfest?
  • Move to this song. You might have seniors that feel compelled to get up and DANCE the polka, but even if they don’t (or can’t), you can still move to the music. With a group of seniors, try demonstrating various movements (clapping, tapping toes, stretching up and down) for them to follow. For folks that need more of a challenge, use movement patterns (such as clap-clap-pat-pat).

Do you know and love this polka classic? What’s your favorite way to enjoy this song? Please share in the comments section!

This post is part of an occasional series on special songs to share with your loved ones. For more song spotlights, click here.

Song Spotlight: “Solamente Una Vez”

You might hear mariachi singing this song. Photo via RinzeWind at

  • Mood: Sentimental
  • Themes: True love
  • Tempo: Moderate
  • Genre/style: Mexican bolero

A particular advantage of music as a therapeutic medium is that connections can be made across cultural boundaries and even language barriers. Sharing a song from another person’s childhood or homeland can be powerful, and even when conversation is not possible, you can still be in music together. This is one reason why music therapists can be especially helpful in cross-cultural therapeutic interactions, whether that be with patients in a hospital, children in a bilingual classroom, or families spending the last few weeks and days with a person on hospice care.

In my part of the world, I frequently work with folks who are native Spanish speakers. So, over many years of practice, I’ve built up a repertoire of Spanish-language songs, especially those that appeal to my older adult clients. One of my favorites – a song that is almost always familiar – is “Solamente Una Vez.”

This song was written and originally sung by Mexican songwriter Agustín Lara, a prolific composer who eventually wrote more than 800 compositions. The original Spanish version has been performed by many artists, including Benny Moré, Ignacio Piñeiro, and Luis Miguel.

A later English version, “You Belong to My Heart,” was featured in the 1944 Disney film “The Three Caballeros.” Ray Gilbert wrote the English lyrics for this version, which are not translations of Lara’s original lyrics. Notably, Bing Crosby later made a popular recording of the English version.

The original Spanish lyrics are romantic, sentimental, and potentially heart-breaking, as the singer tells of the beauty and wonder of his one true love. Here’s the first part of the song:

Solamente una vez (Only one time)

Amé en la vida (Have I loved in my life)

Solamente una vez (Only one time)

Y nada más (And not again)

Isn’t that lovely? This song doesn’t really invite in-depth discussion, just the pleasant memory of love. For English-speaking Americans, an equivalent song might be “Love Me Tender” or “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.” The difference is that those latter two songs get played and sung much more often in our senior living communities, while hearing “Solamente Una Vez” may be a much more special occurrence.

Sharing a popular song in your from your senior’s cultural background is a beautiful way to connect, but I will offer one word of caution: even if you aren’t a fluent speaker of the language and cannot make a direct translation, it is important to know what a song is about. Otherwise, you might find that your resident has an unexpected emotional response that you would not be prepared to address.

Were you already familiar with “Solamente Una Vez?” What songs are important to your cultural background? Please share in the comments below! 

This post is part of an occasional series on special songs to share with your loved ones. For more song spotlights, click here.