CHRIS HOLTEN reckons the best thing about the Sing Out Loud Together project was watching his Elder buddy John Roberts bust out some moves to the Beatlesʼ classic Yellow Submarine.
“I showed him some of my moves too,” said 12-year-old Chris.
Year 5 and 6 students from Kempsey West Primary School joined with the Booroongen Djugun Aboriginal Aged Care Facility to create the Sing Out Loud Together Choir, which culminated with a performance at the school on 7 August.
The inter-generational pilot program saw students, including Dunghutti boys Chris Holten and Ryan Baines, paired with a ʻbuddyʼ from the aged-care facility.
For eight weeks students met with their buddy, learned songs and the history of the music and interviewed Elders for a research program.
“On the first day we didnʼt talk that much, but once we started to get to know each other it was fun, teaching each other different things,” Ryan said of his buddy John Dashwood. “I learned lots of stories about his life, it was very interesting.”
Program director and Arts Health Institute (AHI) CEO Dr Maggie Haertsch said the program had been a complete success.
“It was beautiful, just beautiful,” she said.
“Some of the Elders were lonely and in a wintery environment not mixing, so they would be really excited on Tuesday mornings when the children would come.
“It was structured around singing but there were lots of questions about life history, and the children created beautiful posters that they gave to their singing buddies. There was a beautiful respect.
“You canʼt teach empathy and compassion, that comes from doing, and the children were waiting on the Elders at morning tea, looking after them and wanting to make sure they were all right.”
The Sing Out Loud Together program was created by the AHI and uses music to promote social engagement, elicit positive emotional and behavioural responses and stimulate cognitive functioning in both healthy elderly and people with dementia and to engage with young people.
At the final concert, students and Elders dressed up in feather boas and bowler hats and also presented their project about their buddies and the era they grew up in.
“They were so proud, with their chests out, the kids couldnʼt stop smiling,” said Dr Haertsch. “They were also really focused, wanting to make sure they were looking after the guests coming in to their school.
“It felt really special, after the children had been going to the Eldersʼ place all these weeks and it was a big effort for the Elders to come, some on walking frames. “When a person gets older they can be very nervous going to an outside environment, worried that people might not treat them with dignity or respect, and they can lose confidence, so we were relying on the confidence of the kids.
“We saw a really huge change in the Elders. One woman who had been very shy and would only speak if she was asked a question gave a speech about the experience.
“One of the other Elders spoke about us giving back, planting words of wisdom in the kidsʼ heads.
“Music connects people, connects memories, and the way we did this was based on the Eldersʼ favourite songs so they didnʼt have to learn anything new.”
Due to the success of these pilot programs, the AHI will be rolling the program out nationally.
For Chris and Ryan, the concert and project were the end of the program.
“We had a barbie and a bit of a yarn, they were all smiling,” Ryan said.
“They were happy, thatʼs when we had to hand over to another class,” Chris added. “Weʼre going to miss them.”
Rudi Maxwell, The Koori Mail, published Wednesday, 22 August 2012