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Norton Fellow Connects Music and Memory in Summer Project

"It's been a really interesting experience so far," said rising junior Molly Forrester about the music and memory project she's been working on this summer with senior citizens living in a memory care residence. Molly is one of eight students selected to receive a Norton Fellowship for a summer community-engagement project established by Loomis' Norton Family Center for the Common Good.

Molly's project, inspired by the documentary film "Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory," which was screened on campus last year, involves connecting with individuals with memory loss and creating for each a playlist of favorite music from their past. Molly has been meeting with residents on a one-to-one basis every other day since the beginning of August. During each 45-minute session, Molly plays music through headphones and observes the participants' reactions.

Molly said her experience working on the project has been overwhelmingly positive. Listening to music from the past seems to elicit many happy memories from the residents, and often draws smiles and laughter, she said.

At the start, Molly surveyed the participants' families to find out what music in particular each individual might respond to, and then tailored each playlist for maximum impact, she said. One of the participants likes reggae music and taps out rhythms on her knees with the music, Molly said. Another resident remembers the words to songs from the Broadway musical, Oklahoma! and sings along when Molly plays music from the soundtrack.

Joan, a member of the residence staff, said that Molly's memory project has been well-received by both residents and staff, and the one-on-one interaction has been nice for the participants.

On a recent visit, Molly sat with Jean, one of the project participants, in the facility's outdoor courtyard and played some selections from Jean's playlist of favorites. Jean sang along with the music and spoke at length about her memories of growing up and raising a family, with talk of music and singing woven through her narrative.

"Your head has a longing for the things you like the most – like music," said Jean.

To learn more about the Norton Fellowship, connect to the Norton Family Center for the Common Good page of the Loomis website.