Two Beautiful Sad Happy Days of Steeping in Music and Memory

Monday and Tuesday of this week, I got to spend the day with Dan Cohen and Michael Rossato-Bennett. Dan is the founder of Music and Memory, an organization dedicated to bringing personalized music players to individuals dealing with Alzheimer’s Disease and other chronic and debilitating illnesses. Michael is a documentarian and filmmaker, who Dan hired to do a “little movie” about the organization. That “little movie” turned into a beautiful documentary of the power of music, and something as simple as an iPod, to positively impact mental and spiritual health for people facing serious illness.

Michael and Dan visited Rowan University (where I work) this week. They gave talks to several groups of students, and did a screening of the film, Alive Inside: The Story of Music and Memory. It was a series of events that I will carry with me for a long time.

The film and my talks with (and listening to) Michael and Dan confirmed for me something that I know, but sometimes forget. Music has amazing powers. We know this when we are dealing with small children. We’ll put on music to soothe a fussy baby or help her off to sleep (one of mine loved the Weather Channel theme song and one loved the Batman theme song – we might have watched too much TV back then). But, as soon as people become verbal, I think we forget that there are other ways to interact, to soothe, to encourage communication, to provide happiness, to help process emotion. We expect that it can all be done with words. And then, if someone cannot communicate it with words, it seems like we start to assume that he has nothing to say or we get uncomfortable.

But, things like images, and touch, and music are powerful ways to reach others. Something as simple as an iPod – low cost and easy to work – can provide so much pleasure, access to memories, relief of stress, energy, soothing, etc. It’s a valuable reminder, and this is an amazing program.

If you have watched the clip and want to get involved in this, there are many ways to go about it.

  1. Sit down with people in your life and make a list of their top 20 songs or so. You don’t know when it could be useful and that person won’t be able to communicate it in words. It’s not just for something like dementia, but also for injury or illness recovery, etc. Make sure someone knows yours.
  2. Donate your old iPods to Music and Memory at 160 1st Street, PO Box #590, Mineola, New York 11501
  3. Create an iPod for someone you love (more information and how-to can be found at
  4. Pass on the information about Music and Memory to family, friends, and those you work with. If you know anyone who works or volunteers in a nursing home, let them know!
  5. Start an iPod drive at work, school, church, etc
  6. Donate to Music and Memory.

We spend millions and millions of dollars a year on Alzheimer’s medications that range from $200-$400 a month, and mostly have low efficacy. Why not help someone try a $50 iPod?

Alive Inside: The Story of Music and Memory

Based on the research of noted scholars such as Oliver Sacks, Music & Memory, a non-profit organization established in New York City, uses digital music players to bring personalized music to the elderly, particularly those experiencing Alzheimer’s and dementia, as well as other individuals with chronic and severe health challenges. The results, for patients and caregivers, are nothing short of remarkable.

The documentary Alive Inside: The Story of Music and Memory, details the work of the organization and gives us a glimpse into the power of music to support understandings of the self and create connections to others. You can see a clip from the film here:

On Monday, October 15th, at 6:30 PM. in Pfleeger Concert Hall, Rowan University will host a screening of the documentary Alive Inside: The Story of Music & Memory. This screening will be followed by a talk with Dan Cohen, director of the Music and Memory organization, and Michael Rossato-Bennett, documentarian and producer of the film. This event is open to the public and I would love for you to be there.