Music & Health

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In San Francisco, Seniors Are Singing for Science

Martha Rodriguez-Salazar of the Community Music Center leads the senior choir. (Lisa Aliferis/KQED)

Martha Rodriguez-Salazar leads the senior choir. (Lisa Aliferis/KQED)

Update: 5/22/14 — Community Music Choirs is a finalist for Google’s Bay Area Impact Challenge. CMC has already been awarded $250,000 to continue rehearsals for the 12 choirs established in this study, detailed below. It will be awarded additional funds if it is voted a finalist.

Original Post:

In an auditorium tucked behind San Francisco’s Mission Neighborhood Center, a new choir is rehearsing a collection of familiar Spanish songs. The 20 members of the choir didn’t need to audition; no singing experience required here. Instead, they needed just one thing: to be age 60 or older.

They’re part of an innovative study spearheaded at UCSF and funded by the National Institutes of Health. Over the next four years, researchers will launch a dozen community choirs to see if singing in a choir can have an effect on healthy aging. It’s a joint project of UCSF, the San Francisco Department of Aging and the San Francisco Community Music Center.

Researchers are interested in the quantifiable health benefits of singing in a choir. Right now, there are almost no hard data.
As the choir rehearses “Besame Mucho,” 82-year-old Francisco Sanchez stands in the back row. Sanchez has suffered from depression and fights what he calls “negative thinking.” So when he saw a flyer in his apartment advertising the choir, he thought he’d give it a try.

“Everyone, they are so kind, so nice, so I feel like I am in home,” says Sanchez in accented English. He’s originally from Guatemala, and has lived in the U.S. permanently since 1977.

Sanchez says he looks forward to Friday rehearsals. And after just a few weeks of participating, he’s feeling better.

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