BEACHWOOD, Ohio – Memories may fade, but often the music within lingers.
This was experienced by staff members at Helen’s Place at Menorah Park in Beachwood, a residence for people with memory loss and dementia.
Maria Vinas, Senior Life Enrichment Coordinator and Music Therapist at Stone Garden, which includes Helen’s Place, has seen long-buried memories come to the surface when a song is played.
One resident, a Holocaust survivor, started crying when he heard a particular song. He said it was a melody his mother sang to him, Vinas said.
“The moment they hear a song, they’re back in a minute,” Vinas said.
So it’s only fitting that Menorah House is sponsoring its sixth annual Shining Star CLE musical performance at 7 p.m. Sunday (Sept. 11) at the Mimi Ohio Theater in Playhouse Square.
Twelve students from northeast Ohio high schools — 10 finalists and two alternates — were selected to perform out of approximately 150 who auditioned, representing 73 schools in nine counties. Students compete for college scholarships and an award for their high school’s music program.
The judges will select four finalists. Audience members will then vote on the final prizes awarded, including the top prize of a $10,000 scholarship.
The finalist students are: Emelia Aceto and Hannah Tramonte, Highland High School, Medina; Fiona Coughlin, Firestone CLC, Akron; Alexandra Newman, Western Reserve Academy, Hudson; Nick Peterseim, Brunswick High School; Lauren Ravas, Beaumont School, Cleveland Heights; Lindsey Ross, Hudson High School; Leah Spacek, Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School; Lila Wagner-Gleeson, Theodore Roosevelt High School, Kent; and Khoury Ward, Mentor High School.
The alternates are Ananya Yadati, Hathaway Brown School, Shaker Heights and Kayla Haskins, Avon Lake High School.
Students will be joined by jazz singer and guest judge Antonia Bennett, daughter of legendary singer Tony Bennett. Tony Bennett recently retired at age 96 due to the effects of Alzheimer’s disease.
Monica Robins, WKYC-TV Senior Health Reporter and professional singer, will also perform.
According to Nancy Sutula, Vice President of Residential Services, trying to reach the inner core of the person suffering from memory loss is key to Helen’s Place’s “social life model” approach.
“There’s still one person in there,” Sutula said of their accusations. “The clapper opens and you see the pearl.”
Vinas uses everything from karaoke to brushing your teeth to harness the power of music.
“We focus on their internal rhythms,” she said.
Tony Bennett and his family have witnessed how deeply ingrained music can be in a person’s psyche. The singer was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2016, but was able to continue performing even as his other cognitive abilities deteriorated.
He retired in 2021, but music continues to be part of his daily routine at his New York home.
Helen’s Place offers outings, drills and other activities to engage residents.
“We focus on what they can do, not what they can’t do,” Sutula said.
For example, Beth Silver, Marketing Director of Menorah Park, said residents were involved in planting a rose garden. A resident, with an army leadership background, took charge and rallied the troops. Another, who had worked as a secretary, took care of the paperwork.
Using music and rhythm is “such a great marriage,” Silver agreed.
Shining Star CLE, in its sixth year and returning to live performances after two years of virtual appearances, offers incredible opportunities for cross-generational interaction, Silver added.
Calista Zajac, a senior at Magnificat High School in Rocky River and last year’s Shining Star CLE winner, said she knew nothing about memory care when she first got involved in as a freshman.
“I never had a reason to sing. I had no idea how important it was,” she said, until she performed in front of the residents of Menorah Park.
Calista has brought a lot of joy to the residents, Sutula said. “It fulfilled them, and it fulfilled her.”
Antonia Bennett’s involvement in music throughout her life – she played frequently with her father – and the family’s experience with dementia made her an excellent choice to participate.
“It’s so natural for her,” Sutula said. “When she heard about it, she said, ‘I totally agree.'”
Robins, lead singer of the Whiskey Kings and Ninja Cowboys, is recovering from her own battle with brain surgery.
Robins “is one of the most incredible human beings in the world,” Silver said.
Continued financial support for dementia research and assistance to patients and caregivers is increasingly important as people live longer with the disease, Sutula stressed.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 5.4 million people are living with the disease, and many more are expected to be affected as baby boomers age.
Family support is important.
The relationship with someone with dementia will change, “but that’s not necessarily a bad thing,” Sutula said. “You are starting a new relationship and you can continue your journey with this person. »
Menorah Park and its residents enjoy the support of its staff, family members and the wider community, Silver said.
“We have a big extended family here, and we all come together to do what’s right,” Silver said.
Shining Star CLE tickets can be purchased directly through Playhouse Square at www.playhousesquare.org/events/detail/shining-star-cle-2022.