For several years, four musicians in Conway have taken it upon themselves to entertain and bring together senior residents at assisted living centers across town through music.
Jay McDaniel, a Hendrix College professor, said the idea came around five years ago when his father- and mother-in-law, Art and Martha Johnson, moved into Brookdale Conway, an assisted living center. He said Martha suggested he and his brother-in-law Mike Manion — both play music —start coming to the center to play.
With just the two of them, McDaniel suggested they pull more people in and Joe Lombardi and David Allen joined.
McDaniel said they played for the residents but eventually the group encouraged the residents to start participating.
"One thing we started to do was sing-a-long," he said. "[It] didn’t take long for everyone to figure out that was a go, that people liked it."
What struck him, McDaniel said, was how much of a joy it brought to everyone to not just sit there and listen but to participate in the entertainment as well, adding something special to the nights.
"They all reported about how really remarkable it was to do," he said.
Starting that and continuing it through several weekends, McDaniel said the science behind the music and aging became an interest to him and he started researching the benefits.
"There is a lot of research showing how important singing is for folks in their twilight years," he said. "It facilitates movement, activates memories, improves language functions, builds friendships and is a whole lot of fun."
McDaniel said watching the residents take part in the singing, he can tell how much joy it brings them to come together for an hour and not be alone in their rooms.
"We have so much fun," he said. "Needless to say, it’s good for us, the singers, as well as the folks in the residences."
McDaniel is a member of band that gets out every week and plays for community members at Senor Tequila.
For most musicians, he said, performing tends to be the main focus and mindset, but playing for the assisted living residents around Conway is a whole different situation — bringing joy to people and gathering everyone together to enjoy that as a group.
"We live in a world that needs a lot of that," McDaniel said.
The musician said he always wanted to help people and the performance nights are one way he has chosen to do that. He said when he sees people actually participating – tapping their feet, mouthing the words and clapping their hands — he feels like he has fulfilled that.
"I think it gives my life a sense of purpose too," he said. "When I see those mouths moving, I think I’m helping someone … and they’re helping me [too]."
The group, McDaniel said, plays anything from old love songs to patriotic songs like "God Bless America," to Elvis for an hour almost every Sunday at either Brookdale, Southridge Village, The Heritage Company or College Square Retirement Community.
At one center, he said they even have a resident who plays the tambourine every time and gets into it.
"I think she covets the tambourine and she’s good," McDaniel said.
He said the last song of every night, "If I Had a Hammer," by Pete Seeger, is played in honor of Martha who loved it and suggested the group in the first place.
For more information about the group or to watch video performances, visitwww.jesusjazzbuddhism.org/the-four-js-music-making-with-senior-citizens-as-love-and-joy-for-all-ages.