Ukelele therapy

Mt. Hebron students perform during a rehearsal. Seated from left: Rulan Mo, 17, playing guitar, Sanika Devare, 16, and Sydney Schanlon, 16, playing ukulele. Standing from left: Eliza O'Connor, 16, and Hrithika Samanapelly, 16. (Jeffrey F. Bill/The Baltimore Sun/TNS)

BALTIMORE -- On a recent December afternoon, five teenage members of Mt. Hebron High School’s ukulele club gathered to rehearse and record holiday songs. The recording wasn’t just for fun. Sanika Devare, 16, has arranged for it to air on social media, with the hope of providing a source of music therapy for dementia patients.

What started as an independent research project when Devare was a sophomore at Mt. Hebron High School, in Elliott City, Maryland, has evolved into a way to earn her Gold Award, the highest award in Girl Scouts. The Greater Maryland chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association planned to air the Ukulele Holiday Carols Medley video on Dec. 21, 26 and 28 via Facebook live.

Renee Johnson, communications director for the Alzheimer’s Association, said Devare reached out to the organization and offered to provide video of the performance.

“It is really remarkable someone so young is doing this,” Johnson said.

Music has always been a big a part of Devare’s life, she said. Devare, now a junior at Mt. Hebron, has been playing the French horn since fourth grade but didn’t pick up the ukulele until her friend Sydney Scanlon, 16, taught her how to play in the last year. The two formed the school’s ukulele club and met with friends to practice the instrument in person and online.

“We did a video for school, for just the teachers, and everyone playing separately,” Devare said during a break in recording. “It inspired me to do this video with everybody.”

The idea to create a video for the Alzheimer’s Association came as a result of Devare’s work on a school research project about dementia.

“I have always been interested in medicine and researched dementia in school,” Devare said. “I took the same research class again [this school year] and looked more into music therapy.”

Melissa Kiehl, gifted and talented/advanced research teacher at Mt. Hebron High School, said in an email that Devare chose the topic of risk factors and prevention methods for Alzheimer’s disease as a research project last school year and continued her work on the topic this year by evaluating music therapy for dementia and Alzheimer’s.

“In addition to the concert, she has also developed materials to share with attendees about the positive impacts of music for these patients using information she has learned in her research so far,” Kiehl said.

While music has been proven to improve people’s moods, Devare learned that those with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease especially can benefit in multiple ways.

“Those in the late stages [of Alzheimer’s/dementia] are able to sing along to lyrics even if they are not communicating,” Meegen White, program manager for the Alzheimer’s Association, said. “Music reawakens that part of the brain in an individual and gives them the ability to connect with their current situation.”

Devare, a Girl Scout since fourth grade, submitted her Memory through Music project as a proposal to earn her Gold Award. According to the Girl Scouts organization, “through pursuing the Gold Award, Girl Scouts change the world by tackling issues they are passionate about to drive lasting change in their communities and beyond while they learn essential skills that will prepare them for all aspects of life.” Projects should provide “unique solutions with long-term relief” to the community, and as a final step before earning the award Girl Scouts must share what they learned as well as the impact the project has had on others.

“Outreach is a big part of my project,” Devare said. “I have to share what I did and how it benefits the community.”

To do this, she has created and sold T-shirts to raise funds to print pamphlets about dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The pamphlets will include a QR code that links to the holiday concert livestreaming events.

All players at the concert are members of the ukulele club, but Devare’s arrangement required Rulan Mo, 17, to play guitar, Sydney Scanlon, to play ukulele and Hrithika Samanapelly, 16, and Eliza O’Connor, 16, to sing. Devare played bells and acted as director during the songs, which included “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” “Jingle Bells” and “The First Noel.”

“I love this idea and am happy to help Sanika with her project,” Scanlon said. “We’re helping people.”

Sitting in front of a Christmas tree, the group went over rhythms, adjusted amps and discussed how to keep music stands out of sight during the recording.

Next, Devare will edit the video and add her informative presentation before giving it to the Alzheimer’s Association to use. She will also submit it to the Girl Scouts for final approval toward her Gold Award.

Kiehl said Devare’s work on the project is to be commended.

“She is a dedicated, friendly, bright young woman,” Kiehl wrote. “I’m very proud of what she’s done.”

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