TRAVERSE CITY — Mary Sue Wilkinson didn’t stand on a stage when she played “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” at Orchard Creek Supportive Care.
She made the audience part of the act. Wilkinson lead a sing-along at Orchard Creek on May 14 and almost all of the facility’s 20 residents sat around her, nodding to or singing the songs they remember from their youth.
“We live in the moment here,” said supportive care manager June Harmsen as Wilkinson moved to the next tune. “It doesn’t matter if they don’t remember we did this by lunchtime. They enjoy this in the moment.”
Wilkinson started Young at Heart Music a year ago. She leads sing-alongs and performs for individuals or groups of seniors and occasionally children, and wants to teach the community about the importance of music and memory.
Many of her clients have memory loss, dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Wilkinson said music is one of the memories that last through those conditions, and singing songs from youth boosts seniors’ self-esteem and helps them remember the past.
“It doesn’t cure Alzheimer’s,” she said. “There’s nothing we do with music that’s going to cure anything, but it can create this awakening that may be short-lived, but it enhances the quality of life.”
Wilkinson started playing guitar at 12 years old when her mother used a grocery store green stamps rewards program to buy her one. She continued performing through her life and now plays in local bands such as The Wilenes and Drive South.
She found business success on the senior circuit. Wilkinson performs almost 40 times per month, and plans to release a senior sing-along CD and songbook set and a DVD late this summer.
Young at Heart Music isn’t just about booking gigs. Wilkinson is passionate about bringing seniors an activity in which they can all participate and enjoy.