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Music for All Ages is a cohort of the Cobb Institute to promote the well-being of others through the performance of music, consisting of individuals and teams who volunteer our talents to help create just and compassionate communities.

Who We Are

We are a network of amateur musicians who believe in the healing power of music. Some of us volunteer our time and skills to foster musical memories for senior citizens, while others among us offer their musical talents to bring joy to the hearts of young children. Some of us are instrumentalists, some are singers, some both. Some are in our twenties, some in our seventies. All are passionate about music making with and for others to promote well-being.

Our aim is to encourage many kinds of volunteering, all oriented to offer moments of healing and joy. Below we offer a description of one team that is active in central Arkansas: Singalong for Seniors team. We hope that other teams will emerge with other audiences: children, people living on the streets, at risk teenagers, people suffering from disease, people in hospitals, people needing music for moments of transition, people at Farmers Markets. Individuals and groups of musicians can be members of several teams.

As a network we meet once a month on zoom to share best practices and tell stories of what we do. We encourage one another and learn from one another. Sometimes we discuss writings and essays, including those emerging from scientific research, which show powerful links between music and healing.

An Example: Singalongs for Seniors Network

The Singalong for Seniors team has its roots in Arkansas and plays in retirement communities and nursing homes: independent living, assisted living, rehabilitation, or memory care units. We have a special appreciation for people with Alzheimer’s and their families.

The aim of the Singalong for Seniors team is not to perform and be at the center of a stage, but to create a setting in which seniors sing along, or tap their feet, or otherwise respond to music in vibrant ways.

Members of the Four J’s group in Conway, Arkansas
From left to right: Joe Lombardi, John Manion, and Jay McDaniel

We try to select music that is:

  • Enjoyable and familiar
  • Consistent with the moods we want to encourage. For example, upbeat songs help elicit positive emotions
  • Suitable for clapping, singing and dancing along

Typically, we play for thirty minutes to an hour. At the end of our time together there is often a sense of shared community. We call it holy communion. The songs we sing vary from musician to musician. Samples include traditional songs such as You are My Sunshine and Swing Low Sweet Chariot; popular songs such as Country Roads and Can’t Help Falling in Love; hymns such as Amazing Grace and I’ll Fly Away; songs from Broadway musicals such as Somewhere Over the Rainbow and Edelweiss; and patriotic songs such as God Bless America. It all depends on what is appropriate for the context.

You can find out more about the Singlalong group in Arkansas on the Open Horizons website here and here.

The Broader Context

Image courtesy Getty Images

There is a broader context for the Music for All Ages cohort. We believe in the saying “think globally and act locally.” We are all concerned with the well-being of the small but beautiful planet we inhabit with other creatures. We know that the world needs to become more just, sustainable, and joyful. We know the threats humanity faces: environmental collapse, war and the threat of nuclear war, economic gaps between haves and have nots, the ravages of domestic violence, including violence against women. We know the need, worldwide, for an all-age friendly world where no one is left behind.

We are trying to do our best, in our way, make the world more all-age-friendly and just a little more joyful. We are acting locally with the bigger picture in mind. Our sense is that moments of joy, no matter how small, just five minutes in a senior citizen center, add a bit of goodness to the world.

Philosophy of Music

Some of us are influenced by a philosophical perspective called process philosophy and theology. It sees social exchanges between people as an exchange of feeling and emotion; and it understands music as the acoustic expression of feeling. Music is what feelings sound like.

A musical exchange can be positive or negative relative to context. Music can lead people to peace but also to war. In the context of a senior singalongs, research shows that singalong music is quite positive, benefiting overall health (physical and emotional), decrease isolation, provide relief to caregivers.

Our Aims

We want to develop an engaging online space and interactive person-to-person network so that we can (1) spread the good word about performing in public spaces for the well-being of others, (2) encourage amateur musicians to volunteer time and talents in their local settings, so that, if they wish, (3) they can join our cohort, exchange best practices, share stories, and meet once a month on zoom to encourage one another. We want to begin in the United States but eventually move in other parts of the world. (As a Cobb Institute cohort, this can include singalong musicians in Europe, South America, and East Asia, including mainland China, since we have many connections there.)

As a Music for All Ages Volunteer Network, we want to play a small but important role in helping bring about local communities that add light to the world.

Cohort Coordinator

Jay McDaniel is professor emeritus of world religions at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas who has written several books on process-relational thought and its application in religion, spirituality, and ecology. His works include Living from the Center: Spirituality in an Age of Consumerism, What is Process Thought?: Seven Answers to Seven Questions, and Choosing Life: Ecological Civilization as the World’s Best Hope. Jay is editor of the website Open Horizons, and is also chair of the board of the Cobb Institute.

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