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Memory Music Project brings concerts to seniors, from a safe distance

Inspired by her own parents’ love for music and battles with dementia, Amy Massingale created the Memory Music Project to bring live music to seniors.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Right now, we are all trying to stay connected to the ones we love. For family and friends in nursing homes and senior living facilities, it can be even more challenging.

“I think in times like this you’ve got to get creative, and if you’re creative enough and if you love enough, I think there’s a way," Amy Massingale said. “I really think there’s a way to connect still.”

Massingale is doing everything she can to stay connected to her parents, 81-year-old George and 78-year-old Rosemary Massingale, even though they're separated by COVID-19

“It’s very difficult. I’m used to being there every day, Amy said. "I never wanted my parents to feel abandoned or just, like, parked in a facility somewhere."

George and Rosemary both have dementia and are now in hospice at the Aveena Memory Care home in Damascus.

“The most difficult part is that I have to explain, each time. They say, ‘Well come in. Why aren’t you coming in?’ And I have to explain to them that there’s a pandemic and this is for everyone’s safety, and we need to be careful,” Amy said.

As her parents' cognitive capabilities change, their love for each other has not. Massingale says her parents are just as in love as they were the day they were married, more than 56 years ago.

While she was moving them between senior living homes, Rosemary and George lived with Amy in Portland. That's when she says she got to see an even deeper side to her parents’ love.

“When they stayed with me, I would hear them at night saying 'I love you' and I would notice them going to bed at night, holding hands in bed every night,” she said. “They never get tired of looking at each other in all this time. So it’s really inspirational.”

Their love for each other, she said, is matched only by their love of music.

Both gave their lives to music: George as a band director and community college dean music educator and Rosemary as a piano teacher for nearly 50 years.

When Amy first moved her parents into a senior living facility she made sure her mom’s piano came too.

“That’s her sense of purpose, and that’s so important for people. And I wanted to keep her active and inspired as long as I could. She taught lessons there in memory care unit,” she said.

That is no longer an option for Rosemary, and Amy says as her mom’s illness progresses, she has become homesick for New Orleans. That sparked an idea for the perfect Mother’s Day present.

“Music has always been something that has healed her and been her therapy,” Amy said. “So I thought, 'You know what? If I can’t bring her there, I’ll bring it to her.'”

With the help of the Jon Deshler & Saint Syndrome Duo, Amy brought the sounds of her mom’s home city to her parents’ window.

“It brought a lot of joy to a lot of people that day, not just my mom, which truly made me happy,” Massingale said.  

Massingale wants to bring these types of live concerts to more seniors’ windows. So she started The Music Memory Project.

The goal: Connect memory care facilities with local musicians for safe, socially distant concerts.

She is raising money on GoFundMe to be able to pay musicians who might be out of work during the pandemic.  

A win-win: bringing the joy of music while sparking memories and creating new ones.

“Music is a way to connect emotionally and to bring you back to certain point in time to reminisce," Amy said. "It’s powerful. It really is.”

For more information on The Music Memory Project visit the project Facebook page or donate to the GoFundMe site.

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