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December 1, 2023Dan Beck - Trustee, Music Performance Trust Fund
Music Performance Trust Fund (MPTF) livestreamed concerts and MusicianFest senior center events bring admission-free live music experiences directly to young and old. This year, Sue Moore, secretary-treasurer at Local 518 (Kingston, ON), came to our grant team with a unique idea to combine the two programs.
James Mackenzie, of Local 518, had been dedicated to doing MusicianFest performances. He has now begun livestreaming to care units for Alzheimer’s patients, creating a network to reach small groups of patients in various Canadian locations.
As Mackenzie says, “I have always related better to people older than my own generation. Flash forward 45 years, and the reality of dementia and Alzheimer’s hit home with my own mother. Approximately 14 years ago, my mother’s forgetfulness became an issue when she could no longer care for herself. After a short time, Mom’s medical condition warranted placement in a nursing home. I would often play the piano for Mom and her fellow residents at supper. I was approached by the nurses on duty to see if I would be interested in playing for other wards with varying levels of care. This was an easy yes as I had played hospital and care wards back in 1983 with Up with People Cast E.”
Mackenzie reflects on the impact he had seen. “There are two stories I would like to share as background. First, from 1983, a group of us were entertaining patients and residents one morning at an Oregon facility specializing in cancer treatment. After concluding our 20-minute show, the nurses asked six of us if we would sing a song for a patient who could not join the main assembly. Upon entering his room, he appeared comatose and was hooked up to a lot of tubing and monitors. We sang an Up with People song called ‘What Color Is God’s Skin?’ The nurses gave a shocked response as a tear rolled down the gentlemen’s face, and he suddenly had a hint of a smile. We learned later from one of the nurses on shift that his smile was the first outward sign of life he had shown in months.
“Flash forward to 2014 and the ALZ unit in my mother’s home. The lady who had booked me showed me the dining room stage. I began the show by singing ‘Dream, Dream a Little Dream of Me,’ and ‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco.’ By the middle of the third tune, 11 of them were up and dancing and all 14 were singing. Hard to believe, but I was hearing four-part harmony in spots throughout the rest of the show. We were having so much fun that my 60-minute set turned into a 90-minute party. These people were singing and dancing as if they were at a wedding or Legion Hall party. The power of music is truly amazing!”
Through the efforts of Local 518 and the MPTF grant management team, Mackenzie has been able to expand his MusicianFest performances to reach beyond just one location. His show is now a series connecting with an audience where live music is medicine for the mind. We salute his passion to serve and the joy he brings to so many.
Over the 75-year history of the MPTF, small, intimate performances in hospitals, assisted living facilities, and senior centers have always been a part of our grant process. The impact of live music on our older brothers and sisters is widely shared by health professionals, eldercare workers, and mental health experts. Professional musicians who perform live for senior audiences share firsthand accounts of how live music stimulates our elders to interact, move, and engage in music that brings back memories of their youth and of important times in their lives.
The MPTF focused on these small concerts in 2014 with our MusicianFest initiative. The concept was a simple one: place a single musician in a senior center or assisted living facility for an hour. Our initial goal was to fund 500 such events each year through the AFM locals. That target was achieved within a year, thanks to the organizing efforts of the union. Within three years, we were able to double that goal, as we sought to fund 1,000 MusicianFest shows each year.
Unfortunately, tragedy struck in 2020 with the arrival of COVID-19, which had a devastating impact on our senior community. As we sadly remember, live performances of all types came to a halt to stave off the pandemic. We saw union musicians who would not be deterred as they performed in the parking lots of assisted living facilities where isolated seniors opened their windows to the music.
It was during those dark days of 2020 that the MPTF launched livestreamed performances through our website. Over 750 livestreamed concerts were produced in our 2020-2021 fiscal year, half of all performances we supported. It was a new way to keep the music going.
The moral of the story is that change is inevitable. We all must adjust, not just defensively, but progressively to create new opportunities. We celebrate Moore and Mackenzie. They built upon the MPTF’s initiatives to create something special and important for their community. Music unites and the musicians who perform it can and do change the world for the better.