By Kristi Calvery

Before Pam McFarland was a resident at Pondera Medical Center Extended Care, she would get the Great Falls Tribune each week and circle the activities happening that she would like to attend. Now, she isn’t able to leave town as much, but she says she still likes to take advantage of every opportunity she is given. One of her favorite activities is listening to music. Each week, music groups come for the coffee social hour to play music. McFarland says that this week, she was in her room reading, and the music just pulled her down the hall to listen. Her daughter, Marcia Hanley, says that her mother used to love to dance, and the music brings her mom joy.

Robert Moritz, Harry Moritz, and Allen Wittmier are just one of the groups that play at the Pondera Medical Center Extended Care. Twice a week, the group comes and plays country music and old time favorites together on their guitars and bass. Robert Moritz says their group started playing with the group at the PMC Extended Care about 20 years ago, and it makes him happy to see residents tap their feet and sing when the music starts to play.

Moritz said that most of the residents are not strangers, but rather friends that he has grown up with in Conrad. His brother, Harry Moritz, and friend Allen Wittmier have been playing together since the 1970s. Many of the residents have been listening to their music at dances or in the bars around Conrad, and they are familiar with the music.

Music has been proven to be beneficial as a therapy technique in several populations and conditions, including children, adolescents, adults, the elderly, and people with mental health needs or learning disabilities. It also can be helpful for people who have suffered from brain injuries or who have substance abuse problems.

In Big Sandy, LeRita McKeever and a few volunteers from the Catholic Church also use music as an outreach. McKeever plays at the Big Sandy Nursing Home as well as the Big Sandy Activity Center every other week as she has faithfully done so for over 10 years. She started playing her guitar at 16 years old, and she loves that she can bring it along to help with outreach programs in the community.

McKeever says, “The residents wait for us and miss us, and it’s neat to be a bright spot in their day.”

She has seen the power music has to heal and bring happiness to the people she plays for. Last spring, the volunteers learned a new song that starts with an Irish blessing; “May the road rise up to meet you.” A resident at the Big Sandy Activity Center started singing it with her group as tears rolled down his cheeks. When they were done, she asked him how he knew it, and he said his grandmother used to sing it to him when he was a small boy. That day would have been his grandmother’s 88th birthday, and he was very touched.

McKeever says often the most requested songs are either children’s songs or old time favorites like “Jesus Loves Me,” “You are My Sunshine,” and “Amazing Grace.” The volunteers form relationships with many of the people. It is rewarding to McKeever because “it brings the residents a lot of joy and peace.”