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Intermezzo Choir to help those diagnosed with dementia, Alzheimer’s

By Staff | Jan 2, 2020

A new choir is being introduced to Southwest Florida this month for those who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and dementia, as well as for their partners.

Jan Ackley Malecha is the Fort Myers Symphonic Mastersingers Intermezzo Choir coordinator who has worked as a Board Certified Neurologic Music Therapist in Minnesota for Music for Life.

Throughout her experience she has noticed the difference music has had in the lives of those who were diagnosed with dementia and Alzheimer’s, as well as the lives of their partners.

“It was incredible,” Malecha said. “A lot of times the comments from the care partners, or family members, was that they had their family member back. Their personality returned. They seemed to really come out of their shell. They were amazed themselves at what they could do. It was leveling the playing field. There were two singers and everyone was focused on the same goal to produce great music.”

To that end the Fort Myers Symphonic Mastersingers has begun an outreach program, the Intermezzo Choir, which is open to anyone living with Alzheimer’s, or dementia, as well as their care partners.

Malecha said they are hoping to seek out those in the early stages of their diagnosis. She said at this stage the individual experiences more success with following a structured routine.

The choir is named after the lighter piece of music, intermezzo, that is in-between more serious parts of larger sections of music.

“It is meant to be something that people are able to enjoy and be a bright spot in their day,” she said, adding that they hope to have CDs made, so the singers and their care partners can practice the music during the week.

The 10 week session of the Intermezzo Choir will begin Wednesday, Jan. 22. There is a $25 registration fee for participants. The rehearsals will be held Wednesdays from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. at Faith Presbyterian Church, 4544 Coronado Parkway.

Malecha said the music will focus on Billboard Top 50 hits, during the time participants were between 8 to 25 years old.

“Those seem to be the strongest memories we are able to retrieve,” she said, adding that neurologically they can still grow and those with dementia can still learn new music.

The hope is to gather 30 people to start the choir. Those interested can register at www.mastersingersfm.com under “chorus” and then “intermezzo.”

“This is a social opportunity, as well as a music opportunity,” Malecha said, adding that the choir also helps in reducing the stress for care partners and the person diagnosed.

She said the person diagnosed is most likely isolated and withdrawn from friends and social activities.

“It gives the person an opportunity to do something that is always a part of their life,” Malecha said of music.

The rehearsals will start with a 20-minute social time to break the ice and renew some contacts and social connections with others.

“After the social time we will go into an opening ritual, (which) will be the same each time. We will do some warm-ups similiar to Mastersingers. We will start working the repertoire with eight to 10 songs,” Malecha said. “In the middle of the rehearsal we will do a move and groove stretch break. Then a very important part is the music enrichment, testimonials of how the music is affecting them, meant to them. Then we will have time for announcements and closing rituals.”

The beginning and end song will remain the same for each rehearsal. She said they do this because individuals remember tunes and words to the songs, which reinforces the learning process and comfort for those diagnosed.

The weekly rehearsals will end with a concert, which is open to the public, to provide choir members with the opportunity to share their music with their friends.

“We are very fortunate to be able to have the venue at Faith. It is a very high quality facility. That sends a strong message. They are valued and respected in the community — caregivers and family members,” Malecha said.

The new choir matches the mission of Fort Myers Symphonic Mastersingers.

“It’s been a really amazing partnership having Shannon (Arnold) as our (artistic) director,” Malecha said.

Mastersingers is approximately a 75- voice choir that has been around for 19 seasons. The choir performs masterworks and music by prominent composures, giving them the opportunity to sing important music that has been written.

Arnold said she enjoys being able to touch the lives of another generation.

“It’s magical to be able to do that within the entire community,” she said.

Arnold said she is looking forward to the Intermezzo Choir touching the lives of those involved.

“I do it (music) professionally and sometimes it feels like a job. I think I am looking forward to watching it influence people so positively. It is something I am really excited to be a part of,” she said.

Malecha said the Intermezzo Choir is a nice partnership with Mastersingers because it will provide both quality music and social opportunities.

“It’s a tough journey to navigate with people that are diagnosed. It’s a real gift to the community,” she said of the choir. “We have verification from the community that this is a needed service and something they want.”

The Lee County Bar Association Foundation provided a grant to begin the choir. Malecha said they are hoping to receive some more financial support from the community to do another session in the fall.

“If there is a demand for it and we are able to find the financial resources that we need, we will do another session,” she said.

Those who have questions about the choir can email Malecha at jacmalecha@gmail.com.