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.


5 Songs for Springtime

TulipsIn honor of this season, I have five songs to recommend adding to your bag of tricks if they aren’t already there. Add these songs to your “Springtime” playlist, use them to spark conversations with individuals or small groups, or integrate them into large group activities:

1. When It’s Springtime in the Rockies
This song is especially perfect for those of you in the upper Midwest who still have snow on the ground. It’s written from the perspective of a guy in a cozy apartment in the city, thinking about when he’ll be able to travel again to see his sweetheart in the mountains.

2. It Might As Well Be Spring
Listen closely to the lyrics of this Oscar-winning song for a description of spring fever, and use this to start a discussion about signs of springtime. Add pictures of babies in swings, crocuses or rosebuds to add a visual element to your discussion. Sharing the video from the film State Fair is also a great idea.

3. When the Red, Red Robin Come Bob, Bob, Bobbin’ Along
The red robin might be the most recognizable sign of springtime, so this song fits perfectly with the season. Be ready with this song when you can watch robins out the window.

4. When You Wore a Tulip
Tulips and roses are among the first flowers to bloom in the springtime, so this song also fits with the season. Again, have photos on hand or live flowers indoors or outside the window. (You can read a longer post on this song here.)

5. The Birds and the Bees
Along with a discussion about the birds and bees coming out again in the warmer weather, this song might spark discussions about young love, too – that “spring fever” mentioned above.

These are just a few of the songs that might say “springtime” to your older adults. What other songs are on your springtime list?

What Song Was #1 On This Day 50 Years Ago?



I Wanna Hold Your Hand by The Beatles

This song was a hit at the very beginning of Beatlemania in the U.S.

People of all ages will remember this song, but keep in mind that folks in their 60s were teens when this came out, while people in their 80s were probably the parents of those Beatles-loving teens.

You can see The Beatles performance of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” on The Ed Sullivan Show below:

Want more songs to share with your clients and loved ones?

Be sure to check out the song spotlights series.

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.

10 Less-Than-Jolly Songs For Christmas

Stressed young woman in front of christmas treeSometimes the holidays are wonderful and perfect and picturesque.

Sometimes they are heartbreakingly, bone-crushingly painful.

The cultural messages we hear don’t leave much room for sadness or anger or grief. The decorations are relentlessly cheery. (In our neighborhood, there’s an electric Santa waving to cars passing by all night long!) The commercials on TV and radio tell us to buy, buy, buy for the people we love. Even the Hallmark movies always end with a picture-perfect ending.

As my colleague Kimberly Sena Moore wrote, some holiday music can be hurtful. There is this cognitive dissonance there – our minds telling us that we should be cheerful, but our hearts not feeling cheerful at all.

Fortunately, music can contain and express a lot of different emotions, and there are holiday songs that portray all of the complex emotions we may have this time of year. Here are ten of them:

1. I’ll Be Home for Christmas

Bing Crosby made this song a top ten hit in 1943, and on the surface, it seems to paint the picture of an idyllic family Christmas celebration. It’s in the last line that we see the complication here: “I’ll be home for Christmas/If only in my dreams.” This song was meant for military members serving overseas, but it can be just as meaningful for anyone who can’t be home this year.

2. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

Another wartime tune, “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” was sung by Judy Garland in the 1944 film Meet Me In St. Louis, in a rather sad scene where the family is preparing for a move to New York City, away from their beloved St. Louis. Military members, who had the very real understanding that they may or may not see another Christmas, were brought to tears by Judy Garland’s performance of lines like this: “Someday soon we all will be together / If the fates allow / Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow / So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.” Later on, Frank Sinatra asked the songwriter to “jolly up” that muddling through line. His version, including the line, “hang a shining start upon the highest bough” may be the one you’re more familiar with, but the melancholy roots of this song remain.

3. Christmas Ain’t Like Christmas Anymore

Among the holiday songs about lost relationships is this one by Kitty Wells. The lines, “Holidays are lonely days for me/No, Christmas ain’t like Christmas used to be” and, “This lonely house don’t need no mistletoes/For I’m the only one that comes and goes” surely speak to the loneliness that many feel during this season, in Wells’s poignant country style.

4. Good Morning Blues

Also about lost relationships, this song is a plea for Santa Claus to send her love back home to her. This is a blues song, yes, but it’s hard not to like Ella Fitzgerald’s beautiful, jazzy rendition.

5. Blue Christmas

This Elvis Presley hit may be about a lost romantic relationship, but I hear the words of grief and loneliness in the lines, “Decorations of red on a green christmas tree/Won’t be the same dear, if you’re not here with me.” (I wrote a longer post on this song here.)

6. In the Bleak Midwinter

This song, based on a 19th century poem by Christina Rossetti, paints a starker Christmas picture than we are used to these days. You can almost feel the cold wind blowing in this song, and the lyrics speak to the intimate, very human scene of the Christmas story told in the Bible. Part of the last line strikes me as comforting for someone who wants to be a part of the Christmas celebration but who just can’t be jolly: “What can I give him/Poor as I am…Yet what can I give him?/Give my heart.”

7. Coventry Carol

Dating from the 16th century, the haunting minor melody of this song is from a mystery play once performed in Coventry, England. The lyrics of this carol refers to the Massacre of the Innocents, a dark event in which Herod ordered the killing of all male infants under the age of two in the city of Bethlehem. This beautiful song is, then, the lullaby of a mother for her doomed baby boy. Without delving into Christian history and theology, we can definitely say this: not all Christmas music is cheery.

8. Still, Still, Still

Add to the list of quiet, introspective holiday songs this 19th century Austrian carol. Although it does not speak to the grisly scene depicted in the Coventry Carol, this lullaby paints the picture of the un-self-conscious, quiet intimacy of mother and child, in stark contrast to the holly jolly songs we hear on the radio.

9. Mary, Did You Know?

For Christians, this season is a time for remembering the birth of a savior, so several Christmas songs hint at the ministry, death and resurrection of the man that little baby grew up to become. If Christian faith is important to you, reflecting on this part of the Christ story may bring the meaning you are searching for in this season. This song speaks especially to mothers and the uncertainty and pain that can come with that role.

10. I Wonder As I Wander

This folk song was collected in the 1930s, and it too speaks to the larger theological implications of the Christmas story as understood by Christians, that God came to earth in human form to suffer and die just as any human does. For people who are wondering about suffering and pain this time of year, this song may provide comfort, at least from knowing that others have wondered about this topic, too.

No matter what kind of Christmas you expect to have this year, I am wishing you peace for this season and the year to come.

Two Thomas Dorseys

I have to start this post with a confession. A while ago, I had a music therapy client request the song “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.” I had known the song for a while, but when I looked up the lyrics this time around, I noticed that the composer listed was Thomas Dorsey.

“Huh,” I thought. “I didn’t know that was a big band song.”


It turns out there were two men named Thomas Dorsey, both who were notable musicians and composers in the mid-twentieth century.

Rev. Thomas A. Dorsey

Thomas A. Dorsey

Thomas A. Dorsey

Reverend Thomas Andrew Dorsey, the composer of “Take My Hand, Precious Lord,” was born on July 1, 1899 in Villa Rica, Georgia. With a minister as his father and a piano teacher as his mother, maybe it’s no wonder that Dorsey began playing music early. He studied music formally in Chicago as a young adult and started performing blues music first, under the stage name Georgia Tom. He started recording blues and gospel music in the mid-1920s, and took on the job of bandleader at two churches in the early 1930s. In fact, he stayed on at the Pilgrim Baptist Church in Chicago until the late 1970s.

As a composer, music publisher, gospel choir leader, and founder of the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses, Dorsey became so closely associated with the style that he was known as The Father of Gospel Music. In fact, new gospel songs were sometimes called “dorseys.”

Dorsey’s most well-known song was composed out of grief, after the death of his first wife, Nettie, in childbirth and the death of their child just two days later. You can see the pain and weariness in these lyrics:

Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on, let me stand
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on to the light
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home

Applications for Caregivers:

Dorsey’s song has definitely been important for more than one of my older adult clients who lean on their Christian faith during difficult times, especially when they are nearing the end of life or dealing with the loss of a loved one. Because it can bring up sensitive topics, however, be careful introducing this song without being ready to support the person you’re caring for.

Thomas Francis “Tommy” Dorsey, Jr.

Tommy Dorsey

Tommy Dorsey

Our second Thomas Dorsey was better known by the nickname Tommy. A trombonist, Dorsey was born into a musical family, with a bandleader father (Thomas F. Dorsey, Sr.) and brother (Jimmy Dorsey). Tommy Dorsey formed is own band in 1935, after a split with his older brother Jimmy. The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra had a long and successful run, staying mostly active through the mid-1950s  with a variety of musicians, including Carl “Doc” Severinsen, Buddy Rich, Jo Stafford, and Frank Sinatra.

The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra was a quintessential big band, playing ballads and swing numbers that were just made for dancing. The band had 286 Billboard chart hits, including seventeen number one hits in the 1930s and 1940s. Some of these classic recordings included “Marie,” “I’ll Never Smile Again,” and “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You.” And, although Tommy Dorsey was best known as a bandleader, he also wrote several classic songs himself, including “The Morning After” and “Trombonology.”

Applications for Caregivers:

I use recordings by The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra frequently, to take full advantage of the big band sound. Many of this group’s iconic recordings, with long instrumental sections, would work well for expressive or rhythmic movement to music, or instrument playing.

5 Upbeat Songs To Inspire Dancing For Older Adults

We all know by now that exercise and staying active are vital for long-term wellness. This is true no matter what stage of health you are in, whether you are staying limber to play with the grandkids, or you are terrified of taking a fall one day.

One fun and creative way to fit in some exercise is to dance to some of your favorite songs. This works even if you or your loved one claim to have two left feet. Just by letting the music move you, you can get some much-needed exercise and maybe even some stress relief.iStock_000006679133XSmall

Here are just five of my favorite songs for getting folks in my music therapy groups moving to the music, along with some starting ideas for how to dance with music:

1. I’m Walkin’ – Fats Domino

This early rock and roll tune is at a nice tempo either for walking or for tapping toes or marching feet during chair exercises. Try walking/marching/tapping for every repetition of the chorus (“I’m walkin’ yes indeed/I’m talkin’ ’bout you and me/I’m hopin’ that you’ll come back to me”). Mix in other exercises on the other lyrics.

2. Jump In The Line – Harry Belafonte

As you might imagine, this is a great song for a conga line. In case you need further inspiration, though, you might try moving your arms Carmen Miranda-style, or add a shaker for some extra rhythm. Of course, this is a great song for a conga line,

3. Land Of 1000 Dances – Wilson Pickett

Do you know how to mash potato or do the alligator? Those are just a couple of the dance moves mentioned in this upbeat song. You can try some of those original moves or invent your own. Oh, and singing along with the “na-na-na-na-na” part is mandatory.

4. Fun, Fun, Fun – The Beach Boys

This song is quick and short, which may not leave a lot of time for changing movements, especially for folks that take some time to catch on to a new move. I always wave my arms above my head for the repeated line “fun, fun, fun ’til her daddy takes her T-Bird away” – this is a nice structural anchor to get back in sync with the music if someone has lost the pulse.

5. Pennsylvania Polka – Frank Yankovic

That you can dance the polka with this song is obvious, but for those who are not able to do that high-energy dance, you can imitate the hopping movement in the feet or fill in handclaps before the line “the Pennsylvania Polka,” as demonstrated on this video from the Lawrence Welk Show.

I could list many more songs, but I’d also love to hear from you. What are you favorite songs for moving and grooving?

Caregiving professionals: Like this post? Get more ideas and extended applications by signing up for Soundscaping Source.

Song Spotlight: “If You’ve Got The Money, I’ve Got The Time”

  • Mood: Humorous, Spunky
  • Theme: Dating, Enjoying Each Other’s Company, Questionable Motives
  • Tempo: Upbeat
  • Genre/Style: Country

Several months ago, when I was visiting my grandfather in the hospital in western Oklahoma, I made a delightful discovery. In this particular moment, Grandpa was in and out of sleep, but Grandma was there, too, along with my mom and my brother, and we really just needed some way to pass the time in the hospital room.

I had brought my guitar along, intending to sing and play some of the old country and Southern gospel tunes my grandfather loved, especially those songs that were popular back when he was playing guitar in a band during his Army service. I asked Grandma and Grandpa what they wanted to hear, but they told me to play whatever I wanted. I tried a couple of old Protestant hymns – “In the Garden” and “The Old Rugged Cross” – but they were a bit too sad right then. Blinking back tears, I decided we needed some upbeat, silly song. A certain Lefty Frizell classic came to mind.

The Song

Lefty Frizzell

Lefty Frizzell

If You’ve Got The Money, I’ve Got The Time was Lefty Frizzell’s first song to hit number one on the country charts, debuting in 1950. Co-written with Jim Beck, this song comes from the voice of a not-so-wealthy suitor who is more than willing to go out with a date, as long as she can keep paying for the fun. With a tone that is certainly tongue-in-cheek, the singer ends each idea with the title phrase, until he gets to this part:

“If you run short of money I’ll run short of time
You got no more money honey I’ve no more time”

This is no tears-in-my-beer sad kind of country song, which is one reason I enjoy sharing it with folks, especially when it’s time to break down some tension or lighten the mood. (Of course, I would avoid sharing this song with someone who really did have a relationship with someone who just wanted their money.)

This song launched Lefty Frizzell’s successful career in country music. Later, this song hit number one on the country charts again in 1976, with Willie Nelson’s cover version.

Meanwhile, in a hospital room…

I really didn’t expect my grandparents to know this particular song. I honestly thought my grandparents’ interest in popular music stopped in the World War II years (which just goes to show how little even a music therapist might know about their family’s musical inclinations.) But wouldn’t you know that my grandma’s eyes lit up when I started playing this song?

I played a couple of verses, with my grandma smiling, and my grandpa perking up a bit. When I finished singing, Grandma told me that she had that single on a record when she was in college, and she recalled listening to it with her roommate while each of them waited for their dates to call or come by. Of course, at some point, her beau was the man who would become my grandfather.

My grandma neatly avoided telling us any more about her time dating Grandpa, but I cannot tell you how special this moment has become for me. All of a sudden, I had a new image of my grandma – or the young lady I’ve seen in pictures – chatting with a girlfriend and dreaming about that handsome young man I know from a couple of black-and-white Army photos. We had the briefest glimpse into my grandparents’ lives together before any of us were even imagined.

This marvelous musical discovery happened at a time when my grandfather was very weak and tired, just a few weeks before his death, and when my grandma was definitely tired and probably quite worried and in physical pain, although she would never let us see that. Sharing this song was one of those amazing experiences that I had hoped for but didn’t predict. It just goes to show that taking the time to discover those special songs can definitely be worth it.

Ideas For Sharing This Song In Caregiving

Theme – Country Courtship: This song fits well into country music playlists and can spark discussion about the artists (Lefty Frizzell or Willie Nelson) or about going to honky tonks. Some people may have stories about dating and courtship to share, especially if they grew up in the rural areas where this style was very popular.

Theme – Humor: This song would also fit well into a humor theme. Throw in some jokes and some other funny songs for good measure. In fact, I often include this song in sessions for April Fool’s Day. Other complementary country songs may include “Oh Lonesome Me,” “Act Naturally,” and “It’s Hard To Be Humble.”

Drumming: The most helpful aspect of this song’s structure is the last line of each verse, which is split into two parts (“if you’ve got the money honey/I’ve got the time.”) When drumming, split your group in two and have one half play on “if you’ve got the money” and have the other half answer “I’ve got the time.” Encourage groups members to look at each other as they play, like they are having a conversation with the drum.

Movement: You can use the same musical structure described above for movement to music, too, cueing participants to point out for “if you’ve got the money” and at themselves for “I’ve got the time.” Use the rest of the verse to cue other rhythmic movements, making more complex patterns for people who are higher-functioning.


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.