Songwriting Works creates special melody with Alzheimer patients
By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News
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Songwriting Works, whose mission is to improve the mental health of the elderly through collaborative song-writing, has released a music video for its most recent creation, “World War II Homecoming Song.”
It was underwritten by a National Endowment for the Arts' Creativity and Aging in America grant.
The video's premier was Sept. 20 in the rotunda of the Russell Senate Building in Washington, D.C., as part of World Alzheimer's Week, said Songwriting Works Executive Director Judith-Kate Friedman.
It can be seen on the YouTube website by going to http://bit.ly/SiyIOl.
The words and haunting melody for the song came from World War II veterans living at the Dungeness Courte Alzheimer's Care in Sequim and their families, Friedman said.
It was the third song the residents of the Sequim care center have written as part of the song-writing program, which involves trained musicians and songwriters engaging the minds of those with dementia and Alzheimer's.
“We write everything down just as people say it so their voices are in the songs,” Friedman said.
The music video will have its North Olympic Peninsula premiere at the Songwriting Works' second annual Community SongFest scheduled to take place Nov. 11 at the Northwest Maritime Center in Port Townsend.
The first annual song festival received financial support from the Washington Health Foundation, The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation and the Port Townsend Arts Commission, Friedman said, adding that she would find out today whether some of that funding will be repeated this year.
“World War II Homecoming Song” originated in 2009, when veterans involved in the Sequim program began reminiscing about their wartime service, Friedman explained.
One veteran, Herman Logdsdon, began to tell the story of serving as a staff sergeant in the Marines with his twin brother, who lives in Ohio, Friedman said.
Over three weeks, Friedman and other trained song-writers spent three two-hour sessions with four of the veterans, collecting lyrics, melodies and memories from them.
As the song evolved, family members of veterans, other residents of Dungeness Courte and even staff members there chimed in with memories of relatives serving in World War II, Friedman said.
“Each of the details came from different people,” she said.
The song, collectively composed by 30 people, tells of the Logsdon brothers' service and homecoming, and touches on the feelings of the other veterans involved in the process.
“With my twin brother, I went all over,” singers, which include Friedman, chant in the music video.
“We came back home, both alive. Hallelujah.”
“Seventeen months in one stretch. I don't want to go over again.”
As the song-writing progressed, staff at Dungeness Courte contacted participants' out-of-state relatives to see if they wanted to participate, Friedman said.
Through this process, staff contacted the Logsdon family in Ohio.
Friedman said the family was able to see the veteran's need for his twin brother through the lyrics he had provided, and moved Herman back to Ohio, where he spent more than a year with his brother before he died in 2010 at the age of 76.
In addition to the story of the twins, Friedman said one of the most striking parts of the song-writing process was the contribution of another veteran and resident of Dungeness Courte who could barely speak.
But she said that as the people were writing lyrics for the homecoming, the man rolled his wheelchair into the middle of the group and belted out a melody, one that would form most of the tune for the homecoming song.
“He gave us this haunting melody, and he gave it without being able to speak,” Friedman said.
“He [later] said thank you, and that was one of the few full sentences I heard him say.”
Friedman said she also enjoyed the multigenerational aspect of the song- creation process, with the ages of those involved ranging from the elderly veterans to a twentysomething filmmaker living in Jefferson County.
The filmmaker, Aba Kiser, approached Friedman about a video internship with Songwriting Works, and Friedman assigned her to make a music video for the homecoming song.
Kiser took the lead on collecting archival photos for the video, including some from the Fort Worden Military Museum, and filmed a live performance of the song on Nov. 11, 2009, at Quimper Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Port Townsend.
Through the video, Friedman said her nonprofit seeks to show that elderly people with age-related mental conditions can still produce meaningful creative expression through song.
“We want to show that creativity trumps any sort of disability that might make people seem less able to contribute,” Friedman said.
For more information on the video and Songwriting Works, visit songwritingworks.org.
Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at email@example.com.
Last modified: September 30. 2012 6:23PM