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There are so many reasons why people love music. Percussionist, Ethan Kogan said this.
“Music gets us to work in the morning, it can help us fall asleep, it causes people to relive memories. Music inspires people, it gives people fuel, it transmits energies into people’s bodies and hearts. And, we rely on music to get through hard times.”
Hard times—specifically Coronavirus and the quarantine are what sparked an idea by Kogan, a Wilmette native who works as a jazz musician in New York City and his father, Norberto Kogan, a North Shore senior home care agency co-owner, to bring music to the elderly.
Kogan, a New Trier graduate flew home, gathered a group of local musicians together, and spent the first two weeks of June performing a seven-concert tour at various assisted living and memory care communities on the North Shore, the Northwest suburbs and Chicago.
“My dad was telling me about how seniors in communities weren’t able to leave their rooms for several weeks, and how visitors weren’t allowed in,” said 29-year-old Kogan, a Columbia University graduate who has been playing the drums since he was a fifth grader.
“Ethan was telling me how there were no clubs open and no gigs available, so musicians couldn’t play together,” said Norberto, who is a co-owner of Home Care Assistance Chicago, a Kenilworth based caregiving agency that has been in business for 10 years. “So together we thought, ‘Hey, maybe there is a way to put together two groups who are both suffering from the challenges of the pandemic, and find a way to bring joy to each other.”
With Kogan on the drums and different band members for every show, including a guitarist, and keyboard, saxophone, bass and trumpet players, “M.A.S.Q.” (Musicians Aiding Seniors in Quarantine) was born.
The musicians set up outside at a safe distance from the facilities—in parking lots or outdoor patios, and safely distanced from one another. Chairs for the audience were also distanced, and of course, everyone wore masks. The band played jazz and old songs that included “Moon River,” “Mack the Knife,” and “Stardust.”
Performances were held at Belmont Village of Glenview, North Shore Place, Belmont Village of Buffalo Grove, Waverly Inn Memory Care Community, Aspired Living of Prospect Heights, Villa at Windsor Park, and The Selfhelp Home.
“As a performer, there are little things you can tell to see if the audience is engaged, which includes watching people sing along to the songs,” said Kogan. “Music is something that is created before your eyes. It’s a combination of expectation and surprise, and it’s enlivening in a way very few things are.”
Sherie and Marvin Miller have been North Shore Place residents since 2018. Sherie attended the concert held on June 3rd.
“I loved the idea that people were congregating outside for a happy occasion,” said Sherie. “The musicians were very good. I looked around and saw a lot of people smiling. That made me so happy.”
“It was a pleasant surprise,” said Adelaide Hughes, a Belmont Village resident. “I had been in my room since the pandemic started and we were finally going outside to attend something. I didn’t know it would be so good. It made my heart feel good and I thoroughly enjoyed it.”
But in addition to enjoyment and a chance to socialize, music has unique benefits to seniors, especially those with dementia or Alzheimer’s.
Alita Arnold, RN, is an on-staff nurse, trainer, and Cognitive Therapeutics Specialist at Home Care Assistance, and said there are many studies that show music is stored in the brain in a deep way that can be accessed even in cases where so much memory is gone.
“Even those with severe dementia can recognize and respond to music,” said Arnold, who is also a Certified Dementia Care Provider. “Music allows people to connect with the past and feel happy. I’ve seen it again and again. Every time I’ve played meaningful music to a senior, I see the person lighten and smile and reminisce. They engage, sing, clap, sway, and relax.”
In addition to his music career, Kogan works part time for a New York immigration attorney, assisting artists in writing applications for U.S. visas. He said he’s looking forward to returning to New York and to his jobs, but that his brief stint in performing for seniors was meaningful.
“At one memory care community, there was a woman in a wheelchair wearing spectacles with this light in her eyes that was radiant,” said Kogan. “She was tapping her toes to the music so gently and she was dancing as much as she could. It was beautiful to see. It was touching and heartwarming. This is what I came in for.”
“You sort of forget about everything else when you get involved listening to someone play, and you admire the musicians,” Hughes said. “You don’t think of anything else. It’s calming. You sit back and just enjoy the moment.”
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Jackie Pilossoph is a former television journalist and newspaper features reporter. The author of four novels and the writer of her weekly relationship column, Love Essentially, Pilossoph is also the creator of the divorce support website, Divorced Girl Smiling. Pilossoph holds a Masters degree in journalism and lives in Chicago with her two teenagers.