Exhibit Review: “The Science of Rock and Roll”

scienceofrockWe can look at the history of music through a variety of lenses – famous composers (Bach, Beethoven, the Beatles), masterworks (Handel’s “Messiah,” Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”), and historical events and cultural shifts (the return to folk music during the Vietnam era, gangsta rap coming from violent corners of urban America).

In a new exhibit at Union Station in Kansas City, the lens for viewing the popular music of the last hundred years is technology. The Science of Rock and Roll exhibit starts by walking you through the beginning days of recorded music, from electric guitars and turntables, CDs and DJs, to iPods and YouTube. At each step, you see how the technology changed the music business and the music produced by popular artists. You’ll also get to hear plenty of great music and interviews with the musicians themselves.

Perhaps the best parts of the exhibit, though, are all of the interactive music stations. These give you the opportunity to learn how different elements of music fit together and how different instruments work. You can take a turn playing electric guitar, keyboard, and drums. You can get in a sound booth and record yourself singing. You can experiment with a mixing board or a reactive table. Even better, you can keep the recordings you make at each of these stations, by scanning the QR code on the back of your “backstage pass” and sending the recording to an email address.

This exhibit provides a unique opportunity to hear AND play great music. The displays are visually appealing and informative, and there were many more things to read and hear than we had time for on our visit. Everything was beautifully handicap accessible, including the interactive stations. In all, this was a fabulous hands-on experience of rock and roll and the technology that shaped it.

Visiting the Science of Rock and Roll would be a perfect outing for senior groups and for families.

This exhibit is also a great way to spark some intergenerational conversations, as visitors remember when various technologies were in use, or when particular bands became popular.

The Science of Rock and Roll is a traveling exhibition, making its debut here in Kansas City. You can visit the exhibit at Union Station through May. Find out more about tickets and schedules on the Union Station website.

Here’s your surprise:

Now, in the interest of authenticity and courage in sharing one’s voice with the world, I invite you to check out what I recorded in the sound booth. Please remember that a.) I don’t sound like Marvin Gaye and b.) I was hamming up for my two-year-old (who really wasn’t try to escape the recording booth, I swear!)

Have you visited The Science of Rock and Roll? If so, leave a comment and let me know what you thought!


Holiday Gift Ideas for Caregivers and Seniors

Red gift boxGift giving is a big part of the holiday season, but it is also a tradition that calls for some special thought and care. The good news is that you don’t have to spend tons of money or fill your loved one’s home with more stuff they don’t need if you put some special time and thought into the gifts you want to give.

I’ve included some of my favorite gift ideas for seniors and from seniors below:

Gifts for Seniors

With seniors, think about gifts that are useful, and making sure they know how to use them. I love introducing seniors to new technology and making it as easy as possible to use that technology. Here are a few ideas:

iPod. Music has always been important to access, and with an iPod, your loved one can easily get to any of the music in their collection, with a little help to get started. Speaking of which…

iPod lessons. Show your favorite senior how to use their iPod. Depending on their comfort level with the technology, you may show them how to use iTunes, or you might set up a few playlists for them so all they need to do is select and hit play. This costs nothing but could make a huge difference for your loved one.

Technology cheat sheets. Here’s another idea that costs next to nothing. Write out in very clear instructions how to use the iPod, how to check Facebook, or how to turn on the cable TV. Walk through the instruction sheets with your senior so you know your instructions are clear.

DVD Slideshow. We know that family pictures are precious. Load up a few dozen (hundred?) into your computer, create a slideshow, add some music, and burn to a DVD. Then your loved one can just put the DVD into their player and watch all of your beautiful photos. A digital photo frame is another great way to share tons of pictures with your loved one.

Gifts for Caregivers

With caregivers, think about the gifts you can give that will take away some of the stress of caregiving.

Frozen meals. New parents aren’t the only ones who love these. Make some meals that freeze well and store them single- and double-portion sized containers to be reheated quickly for an easy meal.

Housecleaning services. Christmas might be a great excuse to take this burden away from your favorite caregiver. My grandmother, who has been cleaning her own house for several decades, finally allowed some help with housekeeping a few months ago. Now she loves visits from the “Partners in Grime.”

Private duty homecare. Again, the holidays can provide a great excuse for getting your favorite caregivers started with some services they really need anyway. Private duty home care companies can provide any number of services to help seniors and caregivers get through the day, including transportation to appointments and events (or a trip to the museum!), light housekeeping, meal preparation, or companionship for the senior so that the caregiver can be out of the house for a while.

Double-Teaming. This is when you take your mom out to the movies while your son stays home with grandpa. Or you take your dad to the car show while your wife stays home to bake pies with your mom. Everyone gets some quality time together, and the caregiver gets a break from caregiving.

Gifts for Seniors to Give

I’ve spoken with seniors who really don’t know what to give the younger members of their families. They think they’re out of touch with what the kids might be into these days. Sure, you can buy the hottest new thing or give cold, hard cash, but these ideas are pretty awesome, too:

Record a video interview. I’ve written before about how precious a recording of your voice is. Making time to sit down with your loved ones and let them interview you on tape – that’s is unequivocally precious time in the moment, and a beautiful gift to leave for generations to come. (P.S. If you’ve done this before, don’t worry – there are always more stories to tell!)

Write down your special stories. One of the best gifts I ever got from my grandmother wasn’t intended as a gift. It was a three page essay about her experiences growing up during the Dust Bowl in Oklahoma, originally written for a researcher. I love those three pages.

Something special that belongs to you or that has been in the family a long time. A favorite photo, a piece of sheet music, something you’ve kept from when you were their age – it costs you nothing, and it can mean the world to your loved one.

You can give a wonderful, meaningful gift this season without breaking the bank. I’ve given a few of my ideas – what are yours? Please add to the list in the comments section!

A Creative Christmas Songwriting Experience

We needed dental floss to make our tree presentable. Creativity counts!

‘Tis the season to decorate for Christmas! My family and I will be trekking out to a tree farm this Saturday to find our Christmas tree, and we’ll be making ornaments and decorating the tree this weekend. We’ve already got lights up on the house (which my little girl cannot stop talking about!)

I am pretty excited about Christmas this year, and I am grateful for the time I’ll have to spend with my family. The holidays can be quite stressful, though, especially  when you’re missing loved ones, or when you’re trying to find meaningful things to do as a family when you can’t quite match the ideals portrayed by Hallmark. Sometimes it takes some creativity and spontaneity to get through a season that has too much pressure to be perfect.

So, in the midst of holiday preparations, why not stretch your creative muscles with a songwriting exercise? This is something you can do on your own or with the whole family – kids and grandkids included – and it can work well with your loved ones who have dementia or other cognitive challenges.

Here’s what to do:

  1. Start with “Deck the Hall.” You know that song, right? With the fa-la-la-la-las? Sing it through a time or two to remember the tune.
  2. Write a new verse about the decorating and Christmas preparations you are doing. Don’t worry about being a lyrical genius – we’re going for a personalized version here, not a top 40 hit. There is no pressure to be picture-perfect here, just an aim to try something new.

Here’s what a new verse could look like:

Decorate the house with lights and wreaths
Fa la la la la la la la la!
Put the Christmas tree up and hang the ornaments
Fa la la la la la la la la!
String some popcorn and put it on the tree
Fa la la la la la la la la!
Don’t forget the star on top
Fa la la la la la la la la!

(Underlined words are newly composed.)

That’s it! You could make up as many new verses as you like. If you want, write them down for posterity, or make a video to share with family and friends on YouTube. And don’t underestimate how precious the sound of your own voice is. This could be a special gift for your loved ones for years to come.

You could try a similar song re-write with many other Christmas songs. “O Christmas Tree” and “The Twelve Days of Christmas” have worked well for me and my clients.

Okay, now that you’ve done some creative exercise, maybe it’s time for a Christmas cookie?

P.S. If you do write a new verse to this song and want to share with the world, I’d love to hear how it goes! Please post in the comments section below.

Homemade Recordings for a Family Legacy (My Top 5 Tips)

A few months ago, my husband put a CD in our car stereo and said, “you’re gonna love this.” Click the link below to hear what I heard:

Great-Grandpa On Tape

What I heard were voices from my family’s past. My mother-in-law and her sister were kids back then, trying out a new tape recorder, when that was the brand-new technology. Their mom (my husband’s grandmother) was trying to convince her dad (my husband’s great-grandfather) to sing for the recorder. He demurred at first, but with some gentle cajoling, he gave in, showing off a yodel, then singing a few old folk songs, with Grandma adding in the harmony. This recording was nothing formal, just the family playing around.

But yet this recording is unbelievably precious. Continue reading

Song Spotlight: “Mama Tried”

Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California – Dorothea Lange

  • Mood: Regretful, Defiant, Wistful
  • Theme: Regret, Motherhood/Parenting
  • Tempo: Moderately Fast
  • Genre/style: Classic Country

Mother’s Day is coming up in a few days, and in honor of the holiday, I’ve been sharing many songs about motherly advice and love with clients in music therapy. In fact, a few that I’ve spotlighted before work well for this holiday, including Que Sera Sera, Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy, Cuddle Up a Little Closer and Button Up Your Overcoat (although it’s a bit warm for that last one. Maybe it would work in the southern hemisphere?)

The fact is, though, that Mother’s Day isn’t always the happiest day, for the children or for the mothers. My heart goes out to mothers who have lost their children and children who have lost their mothers, as I know they are grieving at this time. My heart also goes out to the women who desperately want to be mothers but who have struggled with infertility or miscarriages. These losses leave holes in our lives that cannot be papered over.

And, I’m also thinking about the mothers who have been disappointed by their children. Parenting always involves ups and downs as children grow and life happens. Sometimes things don’t work out for the best, and sometimes children make serious and lasting mistakes, no matter how hard their parents tried to raise them well. This causes a different kind of pain, especially when you think that you are the reason why your child turned out this way. I’ve known mothers of adult children who have experienced this kind of pain. I’ve also heard the regret of folks who disappointed their mothers, who made those lasting mistakes and now can’t repair the damage. That’s the topic of this song spotlight: Mama Tried.” Continue reading

The MUVE Method: DVD Review

Do you ever feel stuck in your body? Like maybe the aches and pains are causing your body to curl in upon itself or you have a ball of stress sitting in your stomach that just won’t unknot? If so, here’s something that might help:


Moving to music.

There are many ways you can use music to get moving, whether for exercise or for a more expressive movement experience, as I’ve discussed on this blog before. Still, it can be hard to let go of all the inhibitions our culture promotes (“I don’t want to look silly! I can’t dance! I’ve got two left feet!”) and just move. Plus, when you’re dancing in your living room, it’s easy to run out of ideas for how to dance and just give up. (Confession: I dance in my living room. My daughter loves it!)

Enter MUVE. Created by Maggie Kunkel, MUVE is a method that helps you to let go and let the music guide your movements. Using recordings by musicians native to her home state of Hawaii and the Pacific, Maggie and her intergenerational team of Muvers lead spontaneous dancing inspired by the music. The center person, known as the Muse, shows various movements, and the viewers are encouraged to follow these loosely. Each MUVE dance is improvised – even the Muse is making it up on the spot. That means you, the viewer, can follow the Muse or make up your own moves.

Here are some of the pros and cons of this method as I see them:


  • The music is beautiful. Even better, MUVE DVDs leave out the verbal instruction, so you can really be inspired by the music itself.
  • This method emphasizes moving at your own level. You’re reminded to make movements as big or small as you want, or to make your steps jumpy or not. The emphasis is on making YOUR body feel good, not matching a defined choreography. That’s freeing, I think.
  • The leaders demonstrate a great mix or movements large and small, fast and slow. Everyone should be able to find some inspiration for their own dancing.


  • The visual images are a bit confusing. The graphics match up with MUVE principals like “enjoy music” and “elaborate.” I think that they’re supposed to provide additional inspiration for your movements, but I thought they were instructions I just didn’t know how to follow.
  • The movements may be too vigorous for some. The Mellow MUVE DVD includes tracks for seated movements, but even these might be too much some folks in skilled nursing. If you want to use the MUVE DVDs in your long-term care facility, I would recommend having an activity staff person there to demonstrate or adapt the movements in a way that is safe and accessible for the residents.

Overall, I enjoyed the MUVE DVDs and will likely continue to share them with my daughter as she grows. I loved the freedom to move my body in ways that felt good, without paying attention to how I looked or whether I was doing it “right.”

You can learn more about MUVE here and try it out for yourself with the free Dance Along Video Blog.


Song Spotlight: “Hound Dog”

Our newest family member - Duke the Basset Hound

  • Mood: Upbeat, full of attitude
  • Theme: Dogs and/or freeloading gigolos
  • Tempo: Moderate
  • Genre/style: Rhythm and blues/Rock and roll

We have a new family member in our house! This one gets around on four legs and has very long, droopy ears. His name is Duke, and he’s the adorable basset hound pictured above. I alluded to the inevitable canine addition to our household in this previous song spotlight post, but I thought his arrival was worth another song spotlight. Fortunately, that means I get to feature one of my go-to songs for elders both in group music therapy and in one-to-one interactions: “Hound Dog.”

“Hound Dog” is a 12-bar blues written by Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller in the mid-1950s. Elvis Presley’s 1956 version is by far the best known, but the song was first recorded by Big Mama Thornton in 1952. To me, her recording has a more improvisational, blues-y feeling, with Thornton’s vocal interplay with the instruments and all of the musicians barking and howling like hound dogs at the end of the song. Big Mama Thornton’s version drew a lot of attention and was followed by no fewer than six cover versions by country musicians in 1953. You can hear one by Billy Starr here. Continue reading

Why You Might Want a Music Therapist, Even If You Don’t Need One

Perhaps one of the most confusing things about the profession of music therapy to many people is why it even exists. People have been playing music for centuries to manage various problems, right? Why would you need special training for that? Why can’t I just use music on my own to feel better?

That’s a fair question, in my opinion. It is certainly true that people often find musical experiences they need, whether that is listening to Metallica when they’re angry, singing in a church choir for a richer spiritual life, writing songs to get over a break-up, or turning on some Rossini to wake up in the morning. These are valuable skills, and you don’t need a music therapist to put them into practice. We even have a lot of research now showing ways that people use music to improve their well-being, even without a music therapist involved. These studies tell us things we already know from experience – people (especially healthy people) can find ways to use music to improve their lives.

Sometimes, though, it seems that the person of the music therapist can make the crucial difference in the music experience. A 2011 study* published in the Journal of Music Therapy looked at a music program designed to be implemented by caregivers with their family members who have dementia. Continue reading

Song Spotlight: “Cuddle Up a Little Closer, Lovey Mine”

  • Mood: Sentimental, tender
  • Theme: Love, physical tenderness
  • Tempo: Relaxed
  • Genre/style: Popular/Easy Listening

With Valentine’s Day coming tomorrow, I have been singing lots of love songs with my clients. There are so many GOOD love songs, too, which is to be expected, I guess, since love has been the subject of artists of all types for many generations.

My favorite love song of the moment is especially awesome for a few reasons:

  1. It works for romantic love as well as other kinds of love, like that between a parent and child.
  2. It encourages physical touch, but not in a overly sexual way.
  3. It’s in the public domain, so you don’t have to worry about copyright restrictions in experimenting with this song.

“Cuddle Up a Little Closer Lovey Mine” was published in 1908 as part of the Broadway music The Three Twins, with music by Karl Hoschna and lyrics by Otto Harbach. I learned it from a client of mine, who at the age of 99 can sing all of the words by heart. Here are the lyrics: Continue reading

Tools of the Trade: Frog Rasp

I’ve introduced you to the pentatonic marimba and the ocean drum, and now I want to share another of my favorite instruments with you. Technically, you might call it a frog rasp, but my music-making clients and I usually just call it the frog.

This instrument is great for many reasons, including its beautiful looks, warm sound, and whimsical “personality.” It’s a great intergenerational choice since it’s a favorite among my older adult clients and my younger clients as well. Continue reading