Updated: Nov 18, 2021
Interview by Thomas Harding with Theresa Tong
Tom: Good Morning.
Tom: Thank you so much for taking the time. I'm one of the Board Members of Music Heals Minds, the organization that Nandani Sinha (Nani) has founded, and we're trying to paint a picture of what it's like to participate in one of her online vocal workshops, which have had such a profound effect on so many people.
Teresa: I've been joining Nani's group for a while, and it's just really wonderful to see the people, how they just change. I mean, I've also seen some videos. One went viral – this elderly prima ballerina, when she heard the music, her hands began moving and she started doing all the moves again.
And then I just saw a recent one from 60 Minutes on Tony Bennett. He's 90-something, and performed with Lady Gaga.
Tom: Yes, really incredible.
Teresa: Oh my goodness, it was just wonderful, but they said that a couple days later, they asked Bennett about it, he couldn't remember any of it. But music, it just really touches people's hearts, it connects with that core of who they are.
Tom: Yes, it seems like it touches the heart, and it also touches the mind by firing memory and allowing you to tap into things that you can't access alone, but when you have that musical stimulation, you're able to connect to it.
Teresa: Yes. My mother, for example, had Alzheimer's, and so I would play music for her every night on the phone, and prior to that, when she was able to talk, we would sing a couple songs together every night. It’s the music that really brought back those memories and helped us to connect.
Tom: Right. That's so powerful. I feel like there are times when adult children don't know how to engage with elderly parents suffering from dementia or Alzheimer's, and having this kind of musical experience is such a powerful way.
Teresa: Yes. And it's so simple, just put on some music and all of a sudden they just change. They might not remember it the next day [chuckle] or next hour, but during that time, you can have that connection with them and have them reconnect with their former self.
Tom: Yes, in that present moment. Absolutely.
Teresa: And Nani, she does a great job because she brings in different cultures, different languages, and it’s so inclusive. She even brings her birds sometimes!
Tom: How did you first discover the Music Heals Minds program?
Teresa: I do networking for work, and also my mom had Alzheimer's, so I was looking for answers.
Tom: How many workshops have you taken with Music Heals Minds?
Teresa: Probably ten or more by now. Nani puts the lyrics in the video chat so that people can follow. You can see participants mouthing the words and they're just so happy for that time away from everything. It's just like being at Disneyland or something.
Tom: So you're able to do it remotely?
Teresa: Yes. It's all on Zoom and they’re group sessions.
Tom: Does it make a difference to have a group experience?
Teresa: Oh yes, I think so because you see other people. You see how they're enjoying themselves and it makes you enjoy it more. If you're just one-on-one you don't get that feedback from other people.
Tom: Absolutely. Have you taken any other programs like this? How would you compare Nani’s workshops to other’s you’ve experienced?
Teresa: I did one with one other group and they were singing with a guitar, but you couldn't see the other participants. That was one of the differences, and I don't remember the lyrics being up, so you couldn't really sing along as well, so it wasn’t an immersive experience.
Teresa: And Nani always ends with Aloha 'Oe! So that song always gets me...
Tom: In terms of the way the workshops have impacted you, do you recognize any changes in yourself or what it brings out in you during and after you've had the experience?
Teresa: I think not just myself, I think everyone just feels happier and lighter and... it just lifts the mood.
Tom: I know that Nani's been doing some work to help people strengthen their lung function during COVID, particularly, getting the diaphragm and the whole body into the singing experience.
Teresa: Oh, I never thought about that. Yeah, that's awesome.
Tom: Would you recommend the program? And for whom in particular would you recommend it?
Teresa: I'd recommend it for everyone. [chuckle] People with Alzheimer's and dementia, of course, but I would really say everyone. Especially seniors, because they're more isolated. They're not able to have that contact anymore. A lot of senior centers are starting to open up now as COVID restrictions relax, but still there's that hesitancy. So for those who are staying home, especially, I would say.
Tom: Sure. Seeing how the social isolation has affected people mentally, I can understand what you're saying that having a group experience in the singing class makes a difference because you are not only feeling it yourself, but you're seeing all those other people expressing and enjoying themselves. It's like the difference between singing alone and singing in a choir. You have all that other energy around you.
Teresa: I would say also, if you keep going, Nani will call you out by name and then you have that familiarity, you feel like you have this group of people that know you... and you know them. So you are building community.
Tom: The fact that this is a program that can be operated through Zoom so effectively is especially important for this time when there are visitation restrictions. But also, in general, it’s good for people who have accessibility issues and can't make it to an in-person event. Being able to connect online is so important for people.
Teresa: I would say even after COVID is over... I mean, after we get past this, it would be important to continue because people from all over the world can join in. For people like me, if I'm working, I can't just get in my car and then go somewhere. I could just jump online for that one hour and then afterward do my work again, so I just think it's so valuable. I hope she can keep it going forever.
Tom: Absolutely. That's the goal! Well, Teresa, any final thoughts?
Teresa: Nani's just awesome person. She’s a great vocal coach and I love her spirit and just who she is, so I want to wish her all the best and I look forward to seeing her again, along with all the people that can join in.
Tom: Thanks so much for taking the time to share your experiences about Music Heals Minds.