This month will see a new group of seniors playing music – for other seniors throughout the community. The performances are the culmination of a six-month project where seniors were invited to participate in skill development workshops to take their music to the next level and share it with others.
Participants in WIT’s Sound Investment Project will perform at the Thomson Centre and Copper Ridge Place on March 9. The following week they will play at Whistle Bend Continuing Care Facility. Additionally two performances will be held at Lorne Mountain Community Centre on March 13 at 7 pm and at Marsh Lake Community Centre on March 16 at 4 pm which are free and open to the public. For more information, click here!
Following the launch of the project at the end of September approximately 45 people signed up and participated in the skill development workshops. Over the next three months all participants learned about their chosen instruments, as well as about how to play and work together as a band. Eight groups were formed under the instruction of Scott Maynard, Annie Avery, Andrea McColeman and Barbara Chamberlain. This phase of the project concluded at the end of December. Three groups have chosen to participate in the next phase of performing for the continuing care facilities.
Science is showing us how beneficial music is for the mind, especially as it ages, and is something we've seen first-hand through our past projects, especially 2018's Stories Into Songs where professional musicians helped seniors make songs out of their stories. Many participants of Stories Into Songs found it incredibly inspiring, but some wished they could play music themselves. So we developed Sound Investment to give those people the opportunity to learn more about playing music, but also to still have performances in the community because music is marvelous for its benefits to both the player and the audience!
Whitehorse Independent Theatre (WIT) announces the release of the documentary Stories into Songs on Community Cable 9 starting November 26, 2018. It can also be viewed on our website here!
In March of 2018, WIT culminated its New Horizons Seniors Project with a performance of nine original songs. These songs and interviews with participants form the content of the new documentary. The goal of the project was to team up seniors (anyone over 55) with senior musicians and to create songs that represent what is on the minds of seniors.
The subject matter was gained through a series of workshops, hosted by Arlin McFarlane, with assistance from Annie Avery, Grant Simpson, and Nicole Edwards. Together they wrote the songs from the stories they heard. A band was then hired to play the songs back to the participants and the community at large.
“The event itself was joyful,” says McFarlane of the live performance in the Old Fire Hall in March 2018. “Now everyone can see it again and those who missed it have the opportunity to catch it”.
Song titles include “Aging is Not for Sissies”, “Mountains I Don’t Have to Climb Them”, “Shake that Devil Out” and “Activists Anthem”. The enthusiastic audience clapped along and asked for an opportunity to see the performance again.
The Stories into Songs project is funded in part by the Government of Canada’s New Horizons for Seniors Program.
Curious about music and how bands work? Ever thought you’d like to try a stand-up bass, or an accordion, or even a clarinet? On September 28 you are invited to a Happy Hour and information session on the Sound Investment: Seniors for Music project. Musicians will be available after the performance to talk about their instruments, let the public try them out, and talk about playing with others.
The event will happen at the Gold Rush Inn, Town Hall conference room: doors opening at 4:30pm, and music starting at 5:15pm. Live music will be performed by Widdershins featuring Scott Maynard, Andrea McColeman, Anne Turner, Lonnie Powell and guests.
“During our last project Stories Into Songs we got a lot of seniors who either have some knowledge of music and want to learn more, or some who never learned who would like to” says Arlin McFarlane, artistic director for WIT (Whitehorse Independent Theatre), "The idea grew from there to help people learn to play together and maybe even create small bands who could learn together and then go out and play in the community."
The project is funded by the federal New Horizons for Seniors program, but is not limited to people over 55 as past WIT projects have been, and is the third project WIT has organized. The first, Our Stories Ourselves, focused on story circles and themes of gratitude and legacy. Earlier this year Stories into Songs saw great success with the formation of song circles and the writing of eleven original songs based on the stories they heard from seniors. The performance at the Old Fire Hall in March was standing room only and cemented the value of WIT’s work to the community.
Now the focus is on volunteerism and the creation of a small skilled force of beginner musical bands who will share their music with the community. “Interest is really strong, particularly because it was the community who asked for the program” explains McFarlane. “There are a lot of people who have some knowledge of music, would like to play again, would like to play with others, recognize the joy that music brings, and would like to bring that joy to others in our continuing care facilities. So we are helping that to happen”.
For more information or if you are interested in being involved in the project visit WIT's website wittheatre.com or phone 867-336-2015.
Whitehorse Independent Theatre announces the launching of its latest New Horizons for Seniors Project: Stories into Songs. The goal of the project is to team up seniors (anyone over 55) with senior musicians and to create songs that represent what is on the minds of seniors. In the New Year, these songs will be performed by professional musicians in a concert setting.
Similar to WIT’s “Our Stories Ourselves” Story Circles last year, whose documentary is currently playing on Northwestel’s Community Cable 9, a video of the project will be created to document the process from beginning to end, and will be broadcast as well. “We had such a great Story Circle project last year that I wanted to continue working with seniors, and thought using the song as a story format would be fun”. Says coordinator Arlin McFarlane.
The project had a soft start during Culture Days when the Yukon Transportation Museum hosted three days of workshops. Musicians Grant Simpson, Annie Avery, and Nicole Edwards participated, along with a number of seniors and two and a half songs were mapped out. According to McFarlane, “Participants saw their ideas turn into melodies and grow before their eyes into stanzas and choruses. There was lots of laughter and huge excitement in the room. We got many flip-chart pages of ideas and about two and a half songs mapped out. It was fun”.
More workshops will be scheduled through October, November and January, and anyone who would like to participate is encouraged to email firstname.lastname@example.org for a schedule of dates and times. For more information visit wittheatre.ca, find us on Facebook at WIT – Whitehorse Independent Theatre, or phone McFarlane at 336-2015.
The Stories into Songs project is funded in part by the Government of Canada’s New Horizons for Seniors Program.
After six months of workshops with various senior groups we are excited to host a casual public presentation LEGACY STORIES: Sharing Event on March 11. The event concludes our Our Stories, Ourselves project, which aims to encourage elders and seniors to reflect on important events in their lives, and to find ways of sharing their memories and wisdom.
Between September 2016 and January 2017 I lead 34 Legacy Stories from the Elder Years workshops with 13 different senior groups around the city, helping them share their stories and thoughts. The workshops had an added benefit of encouraging community amongst seniors who are feeling the strain of their isolation.
In late January we hosted personal historian Faye Ferguson who gave a public talk about legacy writing, which over 60 people attended. This talk helped contextualize various ways end of life reflections can be shared including through legacy letters. The intent of legacy letters is to impart wisdom, share a story, or provide a blessing to future generations. “At the core of legacy letter writing,” Said Ferguson, “is the feeling of gratitude.” With this in mind, for those seniors particularly interested in presenting their stories to the public, I've been facilitating more workshops throughout February to help develop their stories either in writing, orally, or digitally on film.
The participants and I are looking forward to sharing stories and thoughts that came out of the workshops. There are so many benefits to reflecting on life’s journey, and on sharing these reflections with others. The afternoon will be casual with plenty of opportunities for discussion between participants and audience members.
LEGACY STORIES: Sharing Event will take place on Saturday March 11 at 2:00pm in the Old Fire Hall (1105 Front Street). Admission is free, and includes refreshments.
I hope you can make it out!
We’re thrilled to kick off the New Year with a talk by Faye Ferguson, a personal historian from Victoria, BC, to discuss Legacy Letter writing as it relates to expressing our gratitude, sharing cherished values and as a means of keeping our stories alive from one generation to the next. The talk is part of the ongoing project, Our Stories, Ourselves, which aims to encourage elders and seniors to reflect on important events in their lives, and to find ways of sharing their memories and wisdom.
As well as being a personal historian who helps record the stories of seniors, Ferguson facilitates Legacy and Life Story writing workshops through the University of Victoria. On January 31 at l’Association franco-yukonnaise (AFY) she’ll discuss her experiences, and the benefits of legacy writing. Ferguson frequently uses legacy letters as a format for reflecting: “We all know how to write a letter,” she says. “Through legacy letters, we can focus on the values, wisdom, and personal reflections we wish to pass on to others”.
I know Faye’s knowledge and experience will add to the discussion of how to pass on stories. Over the fall and winter we’ve held many workshops for seniors and elders to help them share their stories. I’m hoping this talk will stimulate even greater interest. There are so many benefits to reflecting on life’s journey.
LEGACY WRITING: Sharing Gratitude, Values and Life Stories will take place on Tuesday January 31 at 6:30pm in AFY (302 Strickland Street). Admission is free, includes refreshments and is followed by a question and answer period.
I hope you can join us!
Gridlock. We hardly ever have it in Whitehorse and if we do we can likely, easily, take another route to get where we are going (ok, not over the Riverdale Bridge). It is much like the fiber optic cable that is carrying our email to Paris. One moment it might go by Rio de Janeiro and another by Dublin. Whatever route is open.
The brain operates in much the same fashion. A signal may travel one route one day and a completely different route another day, depending on what circuits are available. And this is helpful: for it allows us to press into service less occupied neurons and bond them to the task of learning new skills.
In the brain there is a map of the body. A thigh muscle doesn’t take up much space in the brain map because it primary job is to move the knee forward. The fingers however occupy a large part of the brain map because they perform many functions.
And this is core to what we are learning from neuroscience: given the right treatment the brain has a huge capacity to work around impairments and reprogram the brain map.
However the key to programing or reprograming, is focused attention; a half effort won’t do.
South African, John Pepper has Parkinson’s disease, yet he has taught himself to walk without the shuffling gait so typical of those with PD. He has done so by engaging his frontal cortex to the atypical task of learning how to walk. Usually our brain stem coordinates such activity. John Pepper’s story is recounted by Norman Doidge M.D., in his book, The Brain’s Way of Healing and he will soon feature in an episode of The Nature of Things, hosted by Norman Doidge.
Pepper accomplishes this task by thinking, consciously thinking of the minute details of walking. If he walks consciously he walks well. If he multi-tasks, or talks too much or spaces out, he trips himself up. But if he uses his cerebral cortex with focused attention, he can walk very well.
What Pepper is doing is going around the gridlock of the brain stem where the damage that is Parkinson’s is located. There are sufficient neurons that can pass the message through to the cortex, which has now undertaken the task of coordinating walking. And since neurons that fire together wire together, Pepper is getting better and better at walking. The brain map for walking, previously coordinated by the brain stem is now coordinated by the frontal lobe.
Focused attention. Slow, unhurried focused attention, repeated, over time, will encode our desired new learning.
Whether through the heightened emotional attention of stress or the unhurried focused attention of concentration, our brain is structured to respond to the repeated firings of the neurons and so with conscious thought we can control that firing and organize our brains to serve our needs and suit our surroundings.
As I say in My Brain is Plastic “it’s simple but it isn’t easy”.
Originally published in What's Up Yukon
According to Israeli physicist Moshe Feldenkrais, “hurrying is bad for learning”.
How many of us hurry through our day ensuring that the garbage has been put out, the car has gas, the kids arrive at school on time, that we are appropriately attired and prepared for work, that dinner arrives on the table and that the laundry for the week is done?
Hurrying results in inattention and is characteristic of the multi-tasking life. It means we are not fully present in the moment because we are already half in the next moment. And when we live this way habitually, our neurons, which are habitually wiring together because they so often fire together; program hurrying into our daily habit pattern. If we are not hurrying, it starts to feel funny.
Problem with hurrying is it sends a signal to our sympathetic nervous system that it needs to pay attention, to be on guard. Cortisol and adrenalin levels go up and there we are in a heightened state of fight-or-flight again. This fight-or-flight state can be quite subtle: For some even speaking up at a meeting; Sounding like we know what we are talking about when we are not entirely certain. Even a social encounter can put us into the stress zone if we are not ready for it. Once elevated, we need soothing to calm ourselves. Any number of self-soothing measures are pressed into service: a coffee or tea, a snack, a break of some sort, self-talk, a walk, biting the nails, a cigarette. Well you get it. So many of our habits are efforts to calm ourselves and reduce stress. Often they are so deeply wired we don’t even really take notice.
When we are in an elevated state, our brain plasticity is heightened. Stress response is activated and our attention becomes highly focused. The Limbic System, located at the top of the brain stem and in the centre of the cranium is already engaged, evaluating the emotional significance of events and comparing them to previous events so as to determine their threat value. Our brain is primed to encode and remember.
For example: a camping trip which moments earlier, full of fun and the smell of pine trees is now a terrible threat because of a mouse which runs up someone’s leg and freaks them out. Anything that moves quickly now startles them and draws a stress response. The individual is now triggered not just by swift moving small rodents, but by anything quickly moving and caught out of the corner of the eye. They calm themselves by having a snack or reading a book or curling up somewhere safe and so that self-soothing habit also gets special attention and also gets wired in. The trigger and the self-soothing, both wired in by a plastic brain at a heightened moment of vigilant attention. Neurons that fire together, wire together.
Problem is we’re not engaging the benefit of our frontal lobe. The frontal lobe could tell us that the chances of a mouse running up our leg again are very low. Or that the mouse doesn’t really want to risk its life by running up our leg, or that if we sit with our legs up and not on the ground we decrease the risk of attack. However, the frontal lobe is off line when cortisol and adrenalin are high.
So, now we know neuroplasticity helps us survive in a threatening world; but how does it help us learn new tricks? Stay tuned for part 3 of Neuroscience and Everyday Living.
Originally published in What's Up Yukon.
Can we change our brain just by thinking? Neuroscience would have us believe so.
For example, a calm brain is more capable of learning, working and healing. It sounds simple. When the signal to noise ratio in the brain is low, learning and working and healing is easier. Signal to noise ratio means that the brain’s, “noise” - or random and distracted neural firing, - is so loud a thought can’t make itself heard. How is it our thinking has to push through so much noise to make itself heard?
Neuroscience is starting to provide us with some answers, and stress is part of a story that starts in our nervous system.
The autonomic nervous system is composed of two branches: the sympathetic nervous system (fight-or-flight) and the parasympathetic nervous system (rest-digest-repair).
When the fight or flight response is triggered, blood flows to the heart and muscles so that we can do just that: run away or defend ourselves. However, even though we are not being chased by wild animals, we are being chased by deadlines and deliverables. And this leaves us feeling desperate, endangered and hyper-anxious. The noise in our brain is very loud and “a person in fight-or-flight can’t heal or learn well” says Norman Doidge, M.D. in his second book: The Brain’s Way of Healing.
I come to an interest in neuroscience and specifically neuroplasticity through five years of researching the play My Brain is Plastic, a study of a girl, her troubles, neuroplasticity and hope. It is the story of a pretty normal family, with its share of stress. There it is, that word: stress.
I don’t think any of us imagine ourselves to be in a state of flight-or-fight stress, yet – the surprise is that we are often in a heightened state and that heightened state is elevating our sympathetic nervous system, creating noise in the brain, and making it hard to learn, work and heal. And mostly we just push through, meeting our daily deliverables.
Problem is stress starts to get wired in. Neurons that fire together, wire together is the expression used in neuroscience. Walk down the path of stress on a daily basis and it becomes our default program. We become wired to the elevated state of stress even though our lives are not literally threatened.
Too much stress and we seek ways to de-stress: To relax, to turn off our sympathetic nervous system and get some rest-digest-repair time. We need soothing. Along the way we learned to soothe ourselves: As babies, rocking or sucking our thumbs or fingers; as teens by biting our nails or smoking; as adults by drinking coffee or beer or a glass of wine. Certainly food is soothing.
Habits of stress, habits of soothing. Neurons that fire together wire together. And so habit becomes the default program. And while some of us may have the habit of yoga and mindfulness mediation, many of us have the habit of beer and burgers.
What does neuroscience have to say about habit and how to change them? Stay tuned for part 2 of Neuroscience and Everyday Living.
Originally published in What's Up Yukon.