The positive impact of music couldn’t be clearer to 17-year-old Norwood Davis.
Davis, who moved to Norwich in 2013, started playing the classical piano when he was four years old. Since then, he’s kept playing, most recently in front of an unsuspecting audience.
Davis’ grandmother, Norma Butters, has been living at Wheelock Terrace Senior Living Center in Hanover since 2020. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s about ten years ago.
“For a long time, I’ve watched her decline in what she can say and do,” Davis says. “Back [when I was] in 7th grade, she lived in this place in Cincinnati; we would go [visit] probably once a year, and when we would go I would play the piano there.”
Norma is among many seniors in assisted living centers who are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and experience severe symptoms, such as memory loss, confusion, the inability to communicate, emotional outbursts and impulsive behavior, and lack of awareness. Victims of this unfortunate disease have difficulty performing and experiencing normal, everyday tasks. With that in mind, it’s not uncommon for Alzheimer’s patients to be unreceptive to visitors.
“They sit still for most of the day in front of the TV…there’s not a whole lot of stimulation [for them],” Davis says. “These people, they don’t get to see kids that are so young that often. Those who are like my mom’s Mom, they need this stimulation.”
After seeing how much joy music brought his grandmother, Davis decided to organize a Recital for Young Musicians to share the joy of music with other seniors in assisted living.
During visits to Norma in Cincinnati, Davis would play favorites like “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” for residents of the assisted living center. “I would start to play,” Davis recounts. “You could see a change across the whole space: in their eyes, in the ways they sat or stood, and some would begin to sing or hum along.”
“Some who didn’t know their kids’ names, didn’t know how to walk…they would start to sing along word for word,” Davis adds.
In August, Davis organized his first music recital at Wheelock Terrace and advertised on the Norwich Listserv to young musicians in the area.
The first recital was a huge success: “You could tell that everyone was so uplifted,” Davis says. “Not just [by] the songs that were played and sung, but also just the connection to kids that are young.”
Davis planned another music recital, this time Halloween-themed, at The Greens at Hanover – an independent senior living community. Davis advertised on the Norwich Listserv and Hanover Listserv and ended up with nine young musicians who participated.
Mostly from Norwich and Hanover, the participating young musicians wore their Halloween costumes to the recital at The Greens in October and played some spooky classical tracks to set the autumnal mood. Musicians ranged in age from five years old to teenagers under 18.
Davis says that the biggest impact of his recitals is the connection that music brings for seniors, those with and without Alzheimer’s.
“Both my grandma on my mom’s side and my grandad on my dad’s side, they both suffer pretty severely from Alzheimer’s, and I’ve spent a lot of time in these places,” Davis says. “I’ve seen firsthand how big of an impact the sound of music and how it can bring joy to them.”
As a junior at Kimball Union Academy, Davis will graduate soon, but in the meantime, he plans to continue the tradition of music recitals at area senior centers every two or three months. He also hopes to expand to more locations.
The sound of music touches the mind, body, and soul of all those who hear it, and Davis has seen it work its magic over and over again.
Not only does music spread joy and bring people together; Davis says, “Music has been shown to bring back memories.”