Nostalgic singing sessions give folks struggling to speak a chance to sing

Debbie Nordeen (Right) started the group four years ago. She was inspired by her mother who has dementia. (Photo credit: Side By Side Singing)

A soaring performance helps people who need music more than ever. It's entertainment that gives folks struggling to speak a chance to sing.

You can hear them warming up from far away.

"Mommy made me mash my M and M's," they sing. "Mommy made me mash my M and M's."

That's how they set the tone for the kind of medicine that goes straight to your heart.

"I love to sing. My greatest joy in life comes from singing," said Ruthie Rosauer of Side By Side Singing, who compares it to a slice of heaven at Calvary Episcopal. "It would probably be the equivalent to inventing a pizza that had no calories!"

"We are your song leaders for today!" she announced.

This Side By Side Singing session features Ruthie, Debbie Nordeen, and Jan Mallindine.

It's open to anyone, but is geared toward folks struggling with Parkinson's, dementia, Alzheimer's and more. There's another side by side singing session this Thursday at 2 p.m. at Calvary Episcopal in Fletcher.

"It's a little tiny vacation!" she said, acknowledging that the active ingredient is the crowd. "You just sing and let it go!"

For John Slater, singing "This Little Light of Mine" was a trip down the memory lane that took an unexpected turn.

"Well, it takes me back to when I was younger, before Parkinson's," he explained. He was diagnosed with Parkinson's six years ago.

"You can hear from my voice that I'm very soft," said Don Krichbaum, who also has the disease. "When you sing the songs, it helps you to build up some volume!"

An estimated 80 percent of patients have voice and speech problems.

"To sing, you have to breath first of all," Slater said. "And you open up your chest and sit up straight."

"Every time we do a side by side, I feel like we've been at a party. And it is a party!" said Debbie Nordeen, who started Side By Side Singing four years ago to help take the stigma and stress away from patients.

She was inspired by her mother Shirley, who has dementia.

"I just observed how much singing means to her to this day, and how alive she becomes when she's singing," Nordeen said.

"Everything becomes a challenge," Ruthie said of their struggle. "Going to the grocery store, getting to the doctor's office, getting in and out of the car! And once they're here, they can completely relax."

Nostalgia can be a natural wonder drug, giving hope to folks who need a little light.

"Doing something you love and helping people -- perfect!" Ruthie declared.

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