Senior Ringers Discover Ongoing Rewards - by Barbara Peaker

Choirchimes® are a great instrument to use in the church setting to accompany handbells and when working with young children. But handchimes are not just for the young, they are also for the young at heart. Senior citizens benefit from playing handchimes and handbells just as much as young children. Many groups enjoy spending time ringing at senior homes and retirement communities, but the benefits of music go far beyond simply listening to the music being played by handbells and handchimes. Allowing the seniors to play these unique instruments brings great benefits physically and emotionally to them and gives them a lasting experience of their time playing a musical instrument. 

Motivation for Seniors

Choirchimes have the benefit of being an instrument that is easy to learn to play. Not many instruments can one simply pick up off the table and within an hour be making beautiful music. Because handchimes are easy to play and easy to grasp physically, they appeal to all ages and abilities. Many seniors currently in retirement facilities have either played an instrument at some point in their life and wish they could again, or never had the opportunity to learn an instrument and wish they had. Playing handchimes solves both these issues. The senior that is no longer able to physically play their favorite songs of their past on the piano, can find comfort in playing a single note or two of a recognizable melody on the handchimes. Likewise, the senior with no musical experience can quickly learn how to grasp and ring the handchime and follow along to ring in the right location. Seniors are always surprised to discover they are not too old to learn something new and find it extremely rewarding to play an instrument.

Specific Benefits

Playing the handchimes increases seniors' coordination and stimulates both their brain and their body. A 2011 study by Kansas University found that adults aged 60-83 who had music experience did better on tests of mental acuity than those with little or no musical study. Being a part of a handchime or handbell choir improves their quality of life and the lives of those around them by providing a meaningful music experience. Although over half of all nursing home patients suffer from some degree of Alzheimer's or dementia, handchimes and handbells are proof that they can still learn new skills.

Music Literacy Not Required

It is possible to set up a handchime program for even the most basic of abilities. By using charts with large letters and a pointing stick, seniors can follow along and ring their handchime at the correct time. Reading music is not necessary for these ringers to get a taste of the beauty of handchimes. A simple melody line, with favorites such as Canon in D and Fur Elise sound beautiful when accompanied by a piano or CD background. As the seniors become more comfortable, it is possible to transition into chords by using large letter names attached to a music stand and instructing the seniors to follow which chord is being pointed to and whether it is being rung multiple times quickly or slowly. This allows playing of more complex songs, again with the help of a singer or cd accompaniment to play favorites, like Let There Be Peace on Earth, He's got the Whole World, or Peace for the Children. Seniors are often surprised to discover how beautiful their music sounds.

As the director it is important not to get caught up in wrong notes or poor timing. The importance is in looking at the seniors' faces and hearing the comments of "That's the best thing I've done since I've come to live here". For many seniors, music speaks where their words have failed them; it provides relaxation and satisfaction for those ringing and those listening. Hearing the many stories of how they used to play that song on the piano, or how their mother used to sing them that song, brings joy to both the director and the seniors. For many of them, handchimes and handbells bring back the happiness music once provided for them.

Barbara Peaker represents Malmark in Ontario, Canada and East. You may contact her at (519) 940-1862 or via email at barbara_musicchild@yahoo.ca.

Choirchime® is a registered trademark by Malmark, Inc. for its hand-held chime instrument.


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