Blog Article

Sharing a Love of Music

Mary plays the piano like it is an extension of herself, which may be why she still registers surprise that she was a Fisk Jubilee Singer. The American House Brentwood resident grew up playing piano under the guidance of her father, but when it was time to head to university, Fisk was her first choice. “I went to Fisk knowing that they were going to be very good to be around, because they were all about music. I just wanted to learn to read music better, I never thought of myself as a singer. But I did it. That was the most surprising thing.”

The Fisk Jubilee Singers are a renowned African American acappella ensemble, originating in the 1870’s at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. The group’s repertoire consists primarily of spirituals, hymns and other songs that reflect the African American experience. They continue to perform and inspire audiences around the world, carrying forward a rich legacy and preserving songs of historical and cultural relevance.

In listening to Mary’s stories, it’s clear that not only her talents run deep, her confidence does as well. She will play piano for anyone who wants to listen or sing along. If she doesn’t know the song, she plays it well enough to provide solid accompaniment. “The good Lord gives me the right people and the right time to play. He says, ‘meet them at such-and-such a place, and it’s always the right place.’ These days Mary enjoys playing for her fellow American House residents. Her son, David, is her biggest fan!

Music has been a part of this Nashville native’s life for as long as she can remember. When Mary was a child, she inspired her three sisters to play and sing with her. The notes came easily to Mary, and she learned to play under the guidance of her father, a minister. He set very high standards, and with her tenacious disposition, Mary exceeded his expectations. “Most of the time I had to convince him of what I wanted to learn each day. Once he was sure I could play, we’d play all day.”

Whether it was her joy in helping others learn or the fact that teaching ran in the family, Mary pursued a career as a music teacher after graduating from Fisk. She taught anyone, regardless of age. She had a knack with the younger students, likely harkening back to her own lessons. “Sometimes the kids were too excited and had a little attitude, wanting to learn everything before they were ready. I had to make sure they played what I asked them to and didn’t get ahead of themselves.” Mary knew to work within their skill level. “Students would say: ‘Which way are you going,’ and I’d say, which way do you want me to go?”

With her determined nature, Mary earned a doctorate from Fisk University. Eventually, teaching music led to a role as an administrator in the Nashville school system. And while climbing the career ladder came naturally, her love has always remained piano.

Even now, Mary understands her indelible bond with the piano, “I’ve enjoyed playing the piano because as a pianist, I could give forth a lot more than I could with my mouth.”

Music is good for seniors!
Here are a few of the health benefits of incorporating music into your life:

Cognitive Stimulation
Listening to music, playing instruments or singing can enhance attention and concentration, and can evoke memories, serving as a valuable tool for reminiscence therapy. Music activates multiple areas of the brain, promoting neural connections and potentially reducing the risk of cognitive decline and conditions like dementia.

Emotional and Mental Well-being
For seniors who may face loneliness, stress or other emotional challenges, music can foster a sense of belonging, social interaction and overall mental well-being. It can reduce anxiety and depression, and improve mood by releasing endorphins, the brain’s feel-good chemicals.

Physical Benefits and Therapeutic Effects
Engaging with music can stimulate movement, coordination and balance, which are particularly beneficial for the physical health of older adults. Music therapy, a formal approach that uses music-based interventions, can be employed to address specific physical or rehabilitative goals.

We all have a story. A story that taught us something, changed us and helped define who we are. Our seniors have amazing stories that hold a wealth of wisdom. At American House, your next chapter is waiting to be written. We’re here to help you write it. Your way.


Written By

Lori Bender

Bringing over 20 years of writing experience to American House, Lori has worked in every aspect of advertising and produced award-winning websites. She earned a Journalism degree from Central Michigan University.

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