2015 National Mature Media Award WINNER

2015 National Mature Media Award WINNER
The Creative Landscape of Aging Wins a NMMA Award!

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Relating with Song

“Call me Helen”.

That’s likely the opening words that University of Pennsylvania medical students will hear at their first day of class in Microbiology.

Dr. Helen Davies, 83, is a living legend for her brilliance, creativity, engagement in social issues as well as her personal warmth and compassion. She has won a staggering number of prestigious teaching awards including the 2006 Alpha Omega Alpha (AOA) Robert J. Glaser Distinguished Teacher Award, Penn’s Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching, was named fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and was the first woman to receive the American Medical Student Association’s National Excellence in Teaching Award in 2001. As if all of her accomplishments are not amazing enough, she has developed a reputation for song.

Not any song. Helen develops special lyrics to popular tunes to help her students remember information they need to learn in their course of study. New lyrics attached to the Battle Hymn of the Republic will trigger facts about bacteria, carefully chosen words will keep memories fresh about leprosy sung to the tune of Yesterday by the Beatles, herpes facts will be sung to Sound of Silence, and congenital infections will be tuned to I Will Survive.

With her energy and passion, Helen continues to garner the dedication and respect from colleagues and students every day. Many students have returned to visit and, after years away, some can still remember those special songs that helped them succeed in remembering so many scientific details.

Singing is a special way of communicating. The words and the music in tandem are creative vehicles of expression. It also has a therapeutic healing effect that has been proven in many studies and is being aggressively studied by professionals in the medical field. It can reduce heart and respiratory rates and provide mental relaxation. Victor Sonnino, a neurosurgeon, can visualize how the melodic sound travel in the brain and has treated patients successfully with music. Passionate about opera which is the coupling of song and lyrics to convey a story, he is actively involved in promoting its value as a health tonic and important part of entire body wellness plan.

The Larks of Philadelphia is a group of 14 female singers between the ages of 50 and 70. Initially organized as a Junior League (JL) opportunity, it now encourages others to join who are not affiliated with JL. The women are dedicated and rehearse every week throughout the year, including summer. Their performances range from 2 half-hour back-to-back "cheer & carol" fests performed every Wednesday morning in December at area nursing homes, to longer programs of Jazz, Swing and Motown, and performed throughout the year. By joining with professional musicians for a concert at least once a year, they maintain a high level of musical excellence and perform madrigals and motets in addition to the modern foot-tapping rep.

Anjali Gallup-Diaz is the Musical Director of the Larks; she started singing with them in 2001 and became Director in 2003. She says, “While we certainly enjoy the heady experience of singing with pros for an alert and appreciative audience, the most rewarding moments of our performances often occur in Alzheimer-patient wards. When we belt out "All that Jazz" from the musical "Chicago" and I hear patients humming along, my heart soars. When we sing "Peace on Earth" - which we always do while holding hands with audience members - and an elderly resident, who hasn't spoken in weeks, mouths the words while staring into my eyes, my heart melts. There is no question in my mind that Music affords humans (and maybe our fellow animals, too) the surest and most direct means of communication. I live for those moments when people shed their inhibitions and break into song!”

Henry Van Dyke, writer, poet, essayist, said
“Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best.”

Monday, December 8, 2008

Are you a Penguin or a Peacock?

Or an eagle? Or maybe a swan? Or what about a mockingbird?

BJ Gallagher Hateley and Warren Schmidt have written the fabulous book “A Peacock in the Land of Penguins; a Fable about Creativity and Courage”. It is charming and piercing, funny and poignant; a testimony to the beauty of being different in any organization and the struggle to gain a voice. Penguins are metaphorically portrayed as corporate styled birds in an icy climate dressed formally and universally in black and white attire at all times. Outsiders are other birds who have different but noble intentions and, despite integration efforts, cannot succeed in the penguins’ insular clan type organization. Ultimately these distinct feathered beings find themselves in a new space that embraces their uniqueness and offers them the freedom to be who they are; explore and invent opportunities, share their wisdom, reflect on possibilities and dream their dreams.

Are you a penguin or a peacock? Do you find it easy and safe to conform to a structured environment or do you fan your beautifully colored feathers wide and strut to a different drummer? Can you really change who you are or do you even want to?

Many large organizations have seemed to clone their staff to maintain internal harmony. The invisible logic is that employee sameness will allow the wheels to turn year after year without the risky diversion of change or implementation of new ideas. But this creates staleness in a competitive climate and hostile game playing to the more industrious person with good ideas and intentions. Eventually creative individuals find their paths but it is not often an easy journey. There are some companies that value special strengths (creative industries and small businesses are more open than their corporate counterparts) and will realize the value of these special birds but many “exotic birds” will find solace in building their own business on their own terms.

It is a credit to large companies that realize the instructional value of this book and teach diversity training and mutual respect among employees. The corporate climate is not friendly to peacocks but then it harbors grudges against outsiders of all types. And yet, it is important for penguins and peacocks to learn, listen and accept differences in one another without molting feathers. It is a life lesson for everyone whether or not they are still in the workplace.

So how did B.J. realize the world of penguins and peacocks? She was “much like the lead character…colorful and extravagant, noisy and messy, a bird who is difficult to ignore.”

She said, “ I lived it. I was working at the Los Angeles Times in the late 1980's and early 90's; we held regular meetings of the executive and middle management groups to review circulation figures, assess advertising revenues, and plan new goals. These meetings were always the same: The president with all his vice presidents and directors would sit in the front row in the elegant auditorium, and the publisher began the meeting by introducing each of them. One-by-one they would pop up out of their chairs and turn to face the 200 middle managers in the rows behind them. They all wore dark suits, white shirts, and business ties; they were all about the same height, save one or two tall ones; and all but one were white males (the lone female penguin wore a dark suit and pearls). By all appearances, you would think they all went to the same barber and the same tailor!

One morning I was sitting in one of these meetings, watching these fellows, like so many jack-in-the-boxes popping up, one right after another. “Huh!” I thought to myself, “They all look like penguins.” Then I looked down at myself. I was wearing my favorite Carole Little dress, a bright and bold floral, mid-calf, a bit flouncy (but very slimming). “What's wrong with this picture?” I asked myself. “I'm like a peacock in the midst of all these penguins!” I shook my head, wondering how this could have happened. How did I end up here?

Thus the metaphor was born.”