Making Memories Through Music

Jean D. Lachowicz

In 2014, the Spirit of Harmony Foundation partnered with Walter Payton College Prep High School in Chicago, collecting 25 new and used iPods/MP3 players for the “Making Memories through Music” project.

A student advisory group at Walter Payton began a multi-year, ongoing project with senior citizen home Warren Barr Pavilion to craft relationships with resident patients who are suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s. The students have visited the facility several times and begun to create those relationships.

The students at Walter Payton Prep who participated in the Making Memories With Music project. Representing Spirit of Harmony foundation is Cathy Lee Brandstetter (2nd row from the bottom, far left) and Jean Lachowicz (same row, far right).

    The devices were loaded with a thoughtful selection of musical pieces, with plenty of room for students to add more music to suit the particular taste and interests of the seniors. The students will share the donated players and music with the hope that this medium will stir memories and/or conversation. Through the use of “splitters” both the student and the resident can be listening to the music “together”, hopefully spawning some collaboration.

This project is the students’ idea, but the benefits of music for dementia and Alzheimer’s patients is well documented. For inspiration and information, please watch the trailer for “Alive Inside” an award-winning film documentary that chronicles the astonishing experiences of individuals who have been revitalized through the simple experience of listening to music.

The students were very excited to work with the Spirit of Harmony Foundation on this project and we’ve brought smiles to many faces! 

What follows is an account of one student’s experience with the project.

Kirie Ritchie

I noticed that he started to cry when I sang “What a Wonderful” world in the rec room. His name was Tim, or Tom–I had trouble hearing a few things that he said, as he spoke rather quickly and didn’t quite enunciate. But that was okay, because meeting people is about finding out who they are, not what their name is. So, for the sake of this entry, I’ll call him My Friend. My Friend mentioned that he liked my shirt. It was a Van Halen album tee-I figured then that he must really enjoy the music we’d brought to Warren Barr! So I grabbed one of the MP3 players and we started listening to rock music, as he said was his favorite genre. As Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, and a few other bands began singing their timeless classics into our ears, he started to cry again.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, “Are you upset?” “No.” He smiled. “I’m fine.”

My Friend had previously mentioned that he’d seen Van Halen, David Bowie, and a few other alternative and classic rock bands live when he was younger.

“Is it just that you’re remembering all the times you went to concerts and stuff as a kid?” My Friend nodded. He just smiled, nodded, and kept tapping his foot to the music as I sat beside his wheelchair.

It was inspiring to be able to make someone so happy after their entire life has become getting pushed around in a nursing home each day. It made me feel like a better person, and I was overjoyed as well. True, there was a therapy dog there that really loved me and was jumping all over me, but the truest joy I found at Warren Barr on Sweetness Day was helping My Friend to remember that there is more to life than doctors and medical tests.

Truly, music can bring people together. And only music can bring that kind of emotion to the heart and mind through sound.


Jean D. Lachowicz is Executive Director of the Spirit of Harmony Foundation. For the past 30 years, she headed nonprofits specializing in youth development, social justice, and human services. She lives in Chicago, IL.  Kirie Ritchie is a student at Walter Payton College Preparatory High School in Chicago.