Laclede Groves Mixes Outdoors with Music for a Little Harmony

By Jim Nelson | July 25, 2023

Emily Sitzes

Music is in the air — and in the chapel courtyard — at Laclede Groves, a Lutheran Senior Services community in the St. Louis suburb of Webster Groves, Missouri.

Spearheaded by Emily Sitzes, Laclede’s Director of Community Wellness, the senior living facility has turned a collection of bright and colorful outdoor musical instruments she ordered from a U.K.-based company into a centralized Harmony Garden where residents and their families can now enjoy the sound of music.

Sitzes was jazzed to speak with Senior Living News about the Harmony Garden, which connects Laclede’s various levels of living: independent living, assisted living, assisted living/memory care, and skilled nursing.

SENIOR LIVING NEWS: Give us a little background on the Harmony Garden.

EMILY SITZES: One of my main focuses was to show our residents and our family members and our staff just how important and impactful music can be for everyone. I really loved the idea of an outdoor music sensory space — I’ve heard of different sensory gardens with different tactile things, and I really thought an auditory sensory space to incorporate music would be really wonderful for this population. And, wonderfully enough, our music therapy program was selected as the recipient of last year’s auxiliary project fund that supports residents in our skilled-nursing households. What started as a fund with a goal to just raise some money for my program for some drums and some handheld chimes for music therapy groups, quickly surpassed any of our expectations. We were surprised with the overwhelming amount of support and donations; the auxiliary group ended up asking me to expand my wish list because there are so many people interested in supporting this cause. This was the perfect opportunity to present the idea of outdoor instruments to them, and they absolutely loved the idea.

SLN: And what did you put in the Harmony Garden?

ES: We have a couple of different collections from Percussion Play. We knew we wanted the outdoor instruments to be vibrant and inviting, so we utilized their Calypso Chimes from the Rainbow Collection, and we also have their Rainbow Chimes as well. We really want it to be something where it could be kind of meditative if people wanted to play on their own, or it could be done together to build connections between our community. We have the individual posts, Rainbow Chimes, and the collection of chimes that go together. We also really love the idea of having outdoor instruments; that felt natural in this space. It is our chapel courtyard and already outdoors. We wanted to build upon that nature feeling so we also ended up purchasing the Harmony Flowers.

[With] all the instruments that we chose, no musical experience is required; there is no wrong way to play them. They sound beautiful regardless, and that was also important … because there’s no wrong way to play, it takes the intimidation out of it. That was really important for us to make the space really welcoming for everyone. All the instruments are installed to be wheelchair accessible, and that also means they’re really great if you’re standing, if you’re seated, or if you bring children into that space. We wanted it to be a space that not just our residents would use, but their families, our staff, visitors — anyone within our community could enjoy that space.

SLN: What is your role in helping residents utilize these instruments?

ES: We like to say we’re directing all dimensions of wellness here and focus on the fact that our well-being isn’t just physical. There’s so many other elements to wellness; part of that is expressive wellness and music is a huge part of expressive wellness.

I also oversee music therapy, of course, which utilizes these instruments in many ways. The music therapist has done a meditation in the harmony garden and utilized that resonating tone to first gather people into the space and get them into that calm mindset, and use it as the background for that meditation. She has also led various music therapy groups out there, and they do singalongs. It’s a wonderful space to get a group together and enjoy music that unifies everyone. It’s also a wonderful space where we’ve done some one-on-one music therapy sessions, which are much more individualized to the residents’ needs; a music therapy group is a really great way to focus on social needs, but one-on-one music therapy sessions can really focus on a variety of needs, be it emotional, physical, or social as well.

I’ve seen the space utilized by residents from all levels of living, even our independent living residents are frequently in and out of that space and often visit with their grown children and their grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren, so it’s really a great generational space for them to create music together.

I’ve also seen staff go through there and take a moment out of a busy day and find some calm and tranquility in the chapel courtyard and our Harmony Garden. They have a bit of a break, or lunch, and you find them taking a moment of quiet and playing some music for themselves; having that time for some self-care is really important to us as well.

Since we’re a Lutheran-based community, we have a partnership with one of the local Lutheran schools and they often do a pen pal connection between the students and some of our independent living residents. Each year, I think, they get together for a big luncheon after they’ve been communicating as pen pals — it’s really nice for them to get a chance to meet in person. Some of the residents are continuing to learn that the Harmony Garden is a space that we have available to them, and they were so excited to share this with the students that came to visit them. After their luncheon they went outside to show these middle schoolers this really beautiful space and kind of be proud of this space in their home. Let me tell you, that brought me to tears just seeing the joy; I got goosebumps with how the music filled the space, all of the resonating tones at once. There were children running around from flower to flower, from Rainbow Chime to Rainbow Chime, just enjoying the music. There was collaboration between the seniors and the children creating music together, and it was this completely unreal experience, getting to see this intergenerational opportunity and how much it combined and united these different groups that might feel so separate but really have so much in common when it comes to music.

We like to bring our residents in our memory care setting over to the garden — all of these residents have some kind of dementia or Alzheimer’s diagnosis, and it’s really amazing to see them come to life and connect with the music and have a way to non-verbally communicate and express themselves. I’ve seen them create patterns using the chimes — they play a couple notes, and the staff would play a couple notes, and then the resident with dementia would replicate those sounds or play something to finish that musical phrase. It’s kind of like having a musical conversation between the staff and the residents, and it’s a really great way to support those living with dementia. We really have been trying to utilize it as much as we can, and it’s a wonderful space that even when it’s not planned programming, there are people that tend to sit and utilize it.

SLN: Emily, thank you. Anything else?

ES: We have plans to have several other phases within our own community. I know that there are other Lutheran Senior Services communities that are planning on moving forward with this type of project because it’s so important for this population to have access to this type of thing, and it was made possible by Percussion Play and the support of our residents that funded it, so we hope that things like this continue to grow and that people really recognize the power of music.


Jim Nelson

Jim Nelson is the Editor at Senior Living News, an online trade publication featuring curated news and exclusive feature stories on changes, trends, and thought leaders in the senior living industry. He has been a writer and editor for 30+ years, including several years as an editor and managing editor. Jim covers the senior living sector for SeniorLivingNews.com, distributes its e-newsletter, and moderates panel discussions for the company’s HEALTHTAC events.

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