SALT LAKE CITY — Dozens of residents of Garden Terrace, a facility that specializes in Alzheimer's and dementia treatment, sat quietly as melodies and harmonies filled the room. They watched the pianist closely as she moved her fingers across the keys, the violinist moving his bow up and down his strings and a performer on a clarinet, transforming simple breaths into beautiful tunes.
The residents at the quaint performance smiled at their performers and were grateful to hear their music.
"I've been in long-term care administration for 19 years," said Gary Burraston, executive director at Garden Terrace. "One thing I find fascinating is that music is different than everything else. It creates a feeling; it changes the mood and brings such a calmness to the room."
The musicians were Utah Symphony volunteers and performed as part of its annual Making Sense of Alzheimer's Month. Throughout May, the Utah Symphony | Utah Opera (USUO) is collaborating with the Alzheimer's Association Utah Chapter to provide families and community members affected by Alzheimer's more access to classical music.
"Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias affect cognitive abilities, not senses," Nick Zullo, the association’s Utah chapter program director, said in a news release. "The joy of seeing and hearing professional musicians perform has a positive effect on functionality and often encourages reminiscence, conversations and endearing connections otherwise forfeited."
Many symphony musicians have volunteered their time to perform in different care facilities throughout the month, but USUO is also opening the doors of Abravanel Hall for those able to travel.
The month's first Abravanel Hall performance of Saint-SaËns’ "Organ Symphony" May 6 was well received, explained Paula Fowler, USUO’s director of education and community outreach. She hopes the upcoming performances will impact the community, continuing with Monday's production of "Falstaff."
"'Falstaff' is a bubbling comedy that matches the month of May pretty well. The end of the opera is a huge fugue that sounds like rolling waves of laughter," Fowler said. The performances don't just uplift the audience, but the symphony as well, she said. "We have a more intimate touch with part of our audience, and we love seeing how much they appreciate the performances. It's really gratifying."
Making Sense of Alzheimer's Month was a USUO-brainstormed concept initiated a year ago.
"We liked it so much that we're repeating and refining it," Fowler said. "We want to feed people with music and art, and when they come we want them to have a wonderful time. We want them to leave feeling enriched."
Tickets to both "Falstaff" and "The Rite of Spring" are complimentary to Alzheimer's care recipients and one companion, and 20 percent off for other companions. "Falstaff" will be performed Monday at 7:30 p.m. and "Rite of Spring" May 27 at 8 p.m. There are also pre-concert lectures at both performances.
For more information on Making Sense of Alzheimer's Month, call 801-533-6683.