MCA’s Percussive Music classes, offered for adults 55+, are generously supported by E.A. Michelson Philanthropies. Our partner, Benedictine of Winona, hosted this semester’s class at their Callista Court facility. Big thanks to both E.A. Michelson and Benedictine for making this program a reality!

Big shout out to MCA music instructors Kayla Jannsen and Lisa Douglas for taking on the planning and teaching of these classes, and to Catie Young for coordinating them!

And now, I’ll pass it off to Kayla, who wrote a reflection on this semester’s class:

Our primary goal was to have fun while experimenting with percussion, and we definitely achieved that. By using instruments such as shakers, jingle bells, hand drums, cabasas, rain sticks, and tambourines, participants were able to make noise, even if they struggled with fine motor skills. Sometimes we would show them instruments that were tougher for them to use or play consistent rhythms on, such as the guiro, frog, vibraslap, ocean drum, or triangle. Even if a resident couldn’t play the instrument themselves, they got such a kick out of hearing the noise that each one made–especially the “ribbit” sound of the frog or the rattlesnake-esque sound of the vibraslap! The exposure to something new was sometimes just as important as the actual act of making music, as we saw lots of delight and intrigue on their faces when we would show them these instruments up close.

For some activities we invited residents to play instruments with some sort of accompaniment, either on the piano or with a recording of a song from the 1940s or 1950s. In choosing music for accompaniment we worked in a myriad of genres, including rock, jazz, country, and gospel. Multiple times we noticed someone who had perhaps been mostly sitting and listening (or sleeping!) would actively join in once we were playing a song that they had sung or danced to in their past. It goes to show you how much of an impact music can have on someone–that even someone with memory loss challenges could have their memory jumpstrated by a song from their past!  

We did several activities that relied on the participants’ ability to listen and keep a steady beat. This was great for stimulating their cognitive functions. We challenged them to keep the beat and then follow the instructor as she would get faster and slower with it, and then we did the same thing with different rhythms. We even broke apart into two groups and got kind of a call and response thing going; for example, the first group would play 1-&-2, and the second group would then finish with 3-&-4. We also pushed them to draw out their natural ability to predict the beat by having the instructor count to 4 at different tempos and then asking the participants to only play on beat 3, or on beat 4, or both 2 and 3, etc. Finally, we simulated a thunderstorm! By having the “rain” come from rain sticks and shakers, “lightning” crack on the drums, and “thunder” come from the thunder drum, we felt like we were outside playing in the storm.

Overall, teaching this class was such an awesome experience. Not only did the participants learn about music, when they didn’t necessarily realize they were learning about music, but we, the instructors, also got to know these people and how to best connect with them. By doing so many simple activities and playing along to such a variety of songs, we still feel like everyone who participated benefited. Some just played a steady beat on their preferred instrument. Some loved trying out as many instruments as they could. One even decided to try playing four instruments at once! It was super fun to lead this class, and we hope to offer it again soon.