The following article is from one of our Contributing Authors, and an accomplished weaver and fiber artist, Aneesha Parrone. Here are some of her previous articles: Assisted Living Activities for Seniors and Arts Activities Helping Seniors With Alzheimer’s, Needle Felting to Help People With Dementia, Needle Felting Wool into a Felt Wallet.
When I began my theme for this year, my intention was to create a series of “art history” lessons to stimulate participation from my friends in assisted living. For each lesson, I created a chart with 4 parts, one question in each quadrant with space to write. With each historical artist, I chose open ended questions that would elicit a response. Sometimes that response required my participation and direct encouragement, sometimes members of the class could write independently. Over the last few years, my friends and I have grown together in our relationship. The stage has been set for success. The orientation: Keep it simple; keep it short; keep it immediate. Also, the written format I use for these “art history” lessons has provided an opportunity for each person to actively and verbally respond first.
In all practicality, some of my students do not have a solid historical memory, and some cannot remember 20 minutes later what our class discussion entailed. The heart though, remembers a hug, remembers a smile and remembers the acknowledgment of insight…especially, it seems, when music is played. The mind and heart love to learn, to express, to grow in the light of the creatively joyous. Music is a tool that has energized my friends to initiate the hugs, the appreciation, the smiles…and participation. For some a voluntary incipient response is a huge leap into the present moment, an immediacy of healing.
Our artist for one lesson was the visionary musician, artist and enigmatic woman of the middle ages: Hildegard von Bingen. Music abides in the heart. There is deep mystery within the secret chambers of our being that is accessed through the window of music. The class began with Hildegard’s evocative compositions playing softly and a quote from her writing: “Love abounds in all things, excels from the depths to beyond the stars, is lovingly disposed to all things. She has given the king on high the kiss of peace.”
With a power point slide presentation, various points of Hildegard’s art were discussed: use of the Mandala, visionary art, the importance of nature, religious and natural symbolism. The approach was very direct. “What do you see in the painting? Of what does that remind you? What might be symbolic in using that image?” The music of Hildegard von Bingen continued to be played softly in the background.
The discussion was reflective, with everyone participating. For a few, the thought-provoking conversation was ambitious. Yet, with courage each person generously offered insights. One woman, who comes to every class and does not actively participate in the art, now offered much to the discussion. The art and music offered her an opportunity to be more discerning of what she was seeing, share and respond to others.
Using the image of the angel in one of Hildegard’s paintings as our theme, we created a “Pocket Full of Angels” to give as a gift to one of our friends. Each person chose a different angel stencil to color. Reflecting on the music and art of Hildegard von Bingen, each person thought of an “angel” gift to give, wrote it on the back of the angel and placed it in the pocket. The pocket was filled with Angels ~ Laughter, Music, Love, Singing, Learning, Peace, Joy…So many angels filled that pocket, more than could be seen with the eyes.
The unifying element for each person was the music. With eyes sparkling, faces smiling, all agreed that the music was beautifully calming and relaxing. At the end of our time, canes and walkers were gathered, each person commenting on how the music made them feel; and as the students shuffled out the door, one woman, with a blithesome smile, sighed and offered a hug, “That was the best class ever!” As George Elliot wrote, “I think I should have no other mortal wants, if I could always have plenty of music. It seems to infuse strength into my limbs and ideas into my brain. Life seems to go on without effort, when I am filled with music.” And so it was on this day.