Senior’s column: Music works wonders for the brain

Kelowna columnist says musical memories of songs that we love stay preserved in an area of our brain

By Marjorie Horne

I think that we all have been faced with the reality that life is impermanent. It is brought home to us when we suddenly lose someone we care deeply for and their lives are ended too soon. As we age, this impermanence comes closer and it sits on our shoulder, whispering to us to remember to say, “I love you,” to those who mean so much to us; to embrace an attitude of gratitude for all that we have; to live in the moment enjoying the preciousness of life.

I attended the Celebration of Life this past weekend of Nigel Brown. A man taken from us much too soon who exemplified true generosity of spirit and who still had so much to give. Someone who is generous of spirit is often considered to be a magnanimous person; high-minded, fair, noble, big and worthy. That is where it begins. It’s more than the actions a person does. It is a state of being. People who are generous spirits tend to extend to others what they want for themselves. It is the golden rule personified. This was Nigel.

When you are aware of what it takes to live a conscious life, you can respect others who attempt to do it too. You champion their willingness to try and you want them to succeed. This feeling is generosity of spirit. It is a kind of open-heartedness that flows freely and touches anyone who can feel it. It does not manipulate and has no strings attached. I experienced this gift from Nigel and it inspired me to be a better person. Leaving a legacy is measured in what we have left behind, whose lives we have positively affected and whose hearts we have opened. As I listened to and felt the love from the many people who stood up to share the influence that Nigel had had on their lives, I knew this crusty Englishman would be smiling as he heard of the difference he had made.

Nigel, together with his partner Jill Hilderman, started the non-profit Sing For Your Life here in Kelowna to bring the joy of music and singing to seniors in our community, especially too for those experiencing some level of memory impairment. We all need to feel emotions to stay engaged with the joy of living. We need to remember the times when how our joining with others and experiencing the laughter, the tears, the highs and the lows of what our relationships produce, forms a kaleidoscope of memories, our own world of imagination and wonder on an ever-evolving continuum.

Musical memories of songs that we loved, particularly in the emotionally charged teenage years, stay preserved in an area of our brain called the amygdala, and the emotions attached to these favorite tunes have been shown to remain embedded in our consciousness, even as various forms of dementia may begin to ravage the workings of the brain. The words to these old tunes come easily and effortlessly, even for those that perhaps are not even able to remember what has happened a few moments before. Quite amazing isn’t it!

This is the reason it is so important to keep older adults singing to help them feel alive, connected and able to relive those experiences of the past by triggering the neuronal circuits in the brain that are entwined with musical memory. These memories may trigger joy or may sometimes trigger sorrow, but they facilitate emotional release and this opens the heart again to feel love and connection. What a wonderful thing.

Nigel’s tireless efforts and perseverance kept Sing For Your Life expanding these past eight years, bringing Silver Song Groups to our community for the health and well-being of so many. I know with the loss of Nigel, it will take time and money to move through a transitioning process. It is our turn now to be generous of spirit and I ask those of you reading my columns to open your hearts and your pocket books for Nigel. Please make a donation to Sing For Your Life to support this organization in keeping this worthwhile endeavor alive and flourishing in our community. Visit or mail your contribution to SFYL, c/o Robert Fine, Board Chair at #203, 446 West Avenue, Kelowna, BC, V1 Y 4Z2. For more information on Silver Song Groups that are running now, contact Margaret at 250-764-8808 or Joan at 778-755-0562.

Jill shared the words of Rumi that so eloquently spoke to what those who were blessed with knowing the spirit of Nigel feel: “Goodbyes are only for those who loved with their eyes……because for those who love with heart and soul, there is no separation.” Rest in peace my dear friend.

Marjorie Horne is the founder of CareSmart Seniors Consulting and the host of the Engaging in Aging Radio Show, heard Sundays at 9am on AM1150. Visit or call 250-863-9577.

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