Aging Well: Live orchestra helps older adults leave cares behind


Holiday concerts

Free tickets are available to low-income seniors interested in attending the Steamboat Springs Orchestra holiday concerts. For more information, call 870-3223.

If you go

• 7 p.m. Dec. 5 at Moffat County High School (concerts last less than two hours and include an intermission). Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for children and students through college. Available at the door.

• 8 p.m. Dec. 6 and 3 p.m. Dec. 7 at the Steamboat Springs Christian Center. Tickets are $30 for adults and $15 for children and students. Available at All That Jazz, Off the Beaten Path, the Steamboat Springs Arts Council and at the door.

• For information about more upcoming concerts, visit www.steamboatorch...

It's hard denying that life, for many people, has become more difficult. Even in tough times, however, it's nice to know that pleasures such as music can bring a much-needed lift to the soul.

Although struggles may entice a person to seek out music, those trials also may influence how deeply they feel the music. Perhaps that's why older adults, who often experience it in the context of illness and loneliness, in addition to a lifetime of rich experiences, can be profoundly effected by the music they hear.

The Steamboat Springs Orchestra is among organizations in the community that offer valuable opportunities for older adults and other residents to feel the excitement, joy and other emotions that come with a live music performance.

In an effort to inspire a greater number of older adults to take advantage of this opportunity, the orchestra, with the help of a grant from the Colorado Council for the Arts, is providing low income older adults free tickets to its upcoming holiday concerts in Steamboat and Craig.

Caregivers or family members are encouraged to inquire about these tickets for elder hospice patients or residents of long-term living facilities.

Transcending cares

The Steamboat Springs Orchestra is a nonprofit organization made up of mostly local professional musicians ranging in age from 16 to older than 65. The orchestra typically performs four to five concerts each year at various locations.

The Holiday Concert will include "joyful" pieces, as well as holiday music, and will feature gifted soloists in the orchestra, said Ernest Richardson, orchestra music director.

"When you hear the kind of virtuosity these guys have, it's the same kind of experience as seeing a person ski jump at Howelsen Hill," he said.

In addition to enjoying the music on a personal level, people who attend a musical performance also share that joy with others and, in the process, connect with their peers.

Isolation always has been an unfortunate companion to hardship, struggle and old age. The onset of technology, however, has further encouraged society to retreat into loneliness, Richardson said.

"When people come out of isolation into a community experience, that reinforces who we are," he said.

Music also has the unique ability to link people with places and times stored deep in their memories while helping them transcend their cares and concerns.

Even Richardson, whose working life revolves around music - he's also conductor with the Omaha Symphony and works with young musicians - is amazed at how, with every flick of the baton, he's transported to a new place in his mind.

"Whatever merry-go-round we're on, we get off, and there's something uplifting about that," he said.

Music as therapy

Considering the power of music to ease stress and inspire joy, it's no surprise it's an effective form of therapy for people of varying conditions, including older adults coping with depression, loneliness, dementia and other aspects of aging.

At Colorado State University's department of music therapy, for example, students have found music helps youths, elderly and other patients talk about their issues and problems easier.

"We actually use music as a platform for emotional expression," said Bill Davis, professor of music therapy at CSU.

Carolyn Kuban specializes in music therapy for older adults in the Boulder area. She explained how music activities, particularly those where seniors take an active role, such as keeping a beat with simple instruments, singing or dancing, can help them maintain a healthy brain.

This has been confirmed by brain mapping studies that show more parts of the brain are fired during music activity than almost any other human activity, Kuban said.

"In different parts of the brain affected by music, neurons are healthier from being used," she said.

Kuban uses music activities to help seniors work on their alertness, concentration, problem solving, coordination, speech and other skills.

The rhythmic component of music also has been found to help in retraining movements in Parkinson's patients and people who have had strokes and also has been found effective in reaching some Alzheimer's patients by accessing memories stored in the brain.

"It brings them into contact even for a brief period of time," Davis said. "That's a special thing about music that other techniques aren't able to do."

One of the biggest benefits of all types of music is that it is accessible to almost anybody.

You don't have to understand its technicalities or be a lifelong music lover to appreciate it.

"The only thing you need to do is come with an open heart," Richardson said.

- Tamera Manzanares writes for the Aging Well program and can be reached at Aging Well, a division of Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, is a community-based program of healthy aging for adults 50 and better. For more information or to view past articles, log onto or call 871-7676.


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