Music Mends Minds: Dream now a reality as first rehearsal nears

A songstress herself, Judy Nicolari has observed firsthand the power of music — watching her sister, who suffers from dementia, come alive with the simple act of singing.

Watching music bring her sister out of the darkness of dementia prompted Nicolari to bring that joy to others with such debilitating brain disorders by establishing a chapter of Music Mends Minds — a program designed to help patients suffering from dementia heal through music — to the Valley.

Now that dream has become reality, as Nicolari, with the help of a dedicated group of volunteers, prepare for the inaugural rehearsal for the Forget Me Nots — sponsored by the Music Mends Minds Greater Valley Chapter of Ansonia and Rotary International — on Tuesday, June 18, at 1:30 p.m. at the Joseph Doyle Senior Center in Ansonia.

“We could not be any more excited,” said Nicolari, Ansonia city treasurer and director of the Valley chapter of the Sweet Adelines, an acapella group.

Nearly 100 people — at least 20 of whom are patients, many from Shelton-based senior living facilities, who will be performing — are expected to be in attendance for this first rehearsal. Future rehearsals will be held the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month at the Ansonia location.

“We’ve come a long way in a short period of time,” said Nicolari.

Nicolari — working alongside Shelton native Sandi Schuchmann, owner of Turn It Up, which offers music and movement programs for children — said she was most impressed with how quickly the area chapter of Music Mends Minds came to life.

“Everyone is just excited about this,” said Nicolari about the Forget Me Nots formation. “We have a lot of dedicated volunteers, who, like me, believe this is such a good cause. There are other programs like this held independently at senior living complexes. What makes this one really different is we get people together from several convalescent homes to come together and sing and rehearse.”

The June 18 program will feature an Elvis impersonator, Irish step dancing and some musical performances by Nicolari and Schuchmann before the patients themselves take the stage, during which they will sing the group’s theme song — Zip A Dee Do Dah, with the song rewritten by Nicolari and tailored to this new chorus.

“The ‘Forget Me Nots’ are together, What a great day” …. “Zip A Dee Do Dah, Hip Hip Hurray, Our audience won’t forget us, We’ll make their day,” are just some of the words from a song that Nicolari hopes will be words to live by for her fledgling group.

Nicolari learned of the Music Mends Minds program founded by a California woman whose husband was suffering from dementia. One day, the woman came home to find her husband, who’d been distressed for eight years, playing the piano.

Nicolari brought her message to area Rotary Clubs, seeking support to begin New England’s first chapter of MusicMends Minds. And the idea has been music to the ears of all who listened.

Research by medical professionals across the globe, according to Nicolari, have found that music is a positive trigger for helping build brain power, improve mood, and activate auditory, visual and motor areas of the brain, among other positive effects.

“While in the moment, these people get a new lease on life,” said Nicolari. “They’re just happy to be singing. Their faces light up. It just automatically puts them in a good mood. It is the best medicine they could ever have. Even doctors say it is the best medicine. Nothing tops music.”

Those interested in helping Nicolari in her venture, through volunteering for the chorus, helping with sponsorship, donating instruments or locating a facility, can contact her at 203-231-3603.

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com