Laclede Groves' Harmony Garden Creates a Musical Conversation

Emily Sitzes, Director of Community Wellness at Laclede Groves, a Lutheran Senior Services community in Webster Groves, Missouri, spearheaded the creation of an outdoor music sensory space. As a Board-Certified Music Therapist, Emily understands the power of music in healing and supporting well-being, particularly for older adults. Her goal was to create an auditory sensory space that would benefit the residents, their family members, and employees.

Emily sought to fundraise for instruments, and her music therapy program was selected as the recipient of last year's auxiliary project fund supporting residents in Laclede Groves' skilled-nursing households. She discovered Percussion Play online, which led to the birth of the Harmony Garden. The garden is located in the chapel courtyard, central to the Laclede Groves community, creating an inclusive area for everyone to enjoy. Emily says, "It is a wonderful space, utilized by people in passing and open for non-programmed events. When people see the instruments out there with children and grandchildren, visitors – people stop by to check them out. Staff play out there all the time, having a moment away from a busy day."

Importantly the instruments are wholly inclusive, with no wrong way to play them. Emily says they sound beautiful regardless of a person's musical ability. She says, "The inclusive nature of the instrument was important because it takes the intimidation out of it. We really wanted to make the space welcoming for everyone. All the instruments are installed to be wheelchair accessible, and that also means they're great if you're standing, if you're seated, or if you bring children into that space."

Emily was confident in choosing Percussion Play. She says, "We wanted to go with a company we knew was secure and compared Percussion Play to another large company. We were really drawn to the vibrancy of the instruments, and we could hear the sounds they made on the website. These recordings were really helpful when choosing".

It wasn't only the sound of the instruments that were important, but also their aesthetics. Emily says, "We loved the collections from Percussion Play as we wanted them to be vibrant and draw people in. The Rainbow Collection really fits that focus, and we loved the Calypso Chimes and the Rainbow Chimes. We also loved how natural the instruments felt. Being inspired by nature was important, so we chose the Harmony Flowers.”

The Harmony Garden is the focus of the music therapy program, where they host one-on-one sessions and sing-a-longs, which is a great motor exercise using the upper body and hand-eye coordination. Many residents with dementia are also enjoying the instruments. Emily says, "Residents who have dementia light up when a staff member plays, and they can then replicate that sound. They can follow the 'musical phrase.' We are seeing a musical conversation happening!" Emily continues, "People with dementia struggle to express themselves verbally. It is vital that these people have a voice and can communicate non-verbally through these instruments."

The garden is also used as a greeting to everyone, including the wider community in Webster Groves. Laclede Groves has a partnership with a local Lutheran school, and they often facilitate a pen pal connection between the students and some of the residents. When students visit, intergenerational opportunities are happening where the youngsters can play and share the Harmony Garden. Emily says, “When I walked outside, the space was full of children running around, and residents had huge smiles on their faces, and sound filled the air. There was laughter bumping off the walls. I cried watching it. The joy that was happening out there I had never experienced before. This illustrates the connections being built and being made stronger between generations.”

Emily is inspiring fellow music therapists who didn’t think this would be possible. She wants to open up a musical conversation where everyone can join in. With plans to hold more intergenerational events, Emily looks forward to expanding the music program to other Lutheran Senior Services communities to support the mission of Older Adults Living Life to the Fullest. The Harmony Garden has created a musical conversation that benefits the residents and the wider community.

Emily ends, “We see music in parks and think it’s for children. But it’s not just for young people; it’s for everyone. I want to open up a musical conversation where everyone can join in.”

Senior Living News recently interviewed Emily Sitzes, Director of Community Wellness at Laclede Groves. Read the Article: Laclede Groves Mixes Outdoors with Music for a Little Harmony