Sparking the Human Spirit: Magical Elixir of Music


How do you spark the human spirit? Just watch to see exactly how its done. You will also understand why this video has more than 15 million collective views.

This is the story of Henry age 92.  He spent over ten years as a lifeless, isolated and depressed nursing home resident until the day he received his first iPod loaded with his favorite music from back in the day.  Once Henry hears music from his past, his spirit is sparked and the transformational experience is beyond touching to witness.

The late world-famous neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks who appears in the video observed, “Music imprints itself on the brain deeper than any other human experience.  Music evokes emotion and emotion can bring with it memory and  the feeling of life when nothing else can.”  

From the beginning of civilization music has been recognized as the world’s universal language.  Rhythms and sounds are primal in their capacity to evoke memories and a complex range of intense human emotions from sublime joy to profound sadness.

We process music in the right hemisphere of our brain like other creative functions.  It can stimulate our endorphins that generate emotions similar to those feelings we have when we’re in love or making love.  In recent years, many research studies have explored the impact of music on memory, health and well-being. Suffice to say, music affects human beings in some very astonishing ways.

It’s no wonder that my favorite pastime is listening to music. From my earliest recollections, music has been a major love of my life. Music moves me like nothing else. From Rodgers & Hammerstein to Motown; Joni Mitchell to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; R&B to Brazilian, my playlists go on and on.  It’s hard for me to describe the deep sense of joy, emotion and awakening that I experience when I listen to my favorite music.  Simply stated, music is in my soul.

It’s a funny thing. When I hear my favorite tunes that reach back across the decades, I  am often startled by my ability to effortlessly remember lyrics from hundreds of songs with uncanny precision. It is a paradoxical experience to recall exact words and intricate rhythms from favorite oldies just minutes following a senior moment.

A technologist and social worker named Dan Cohen had a similar epiphany while volunteering at a local nursing home in 2008. Acting on instinct, he decided to offer iPods with personalized playlists to residents who were socially isolated or suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Cohen’s work became the focus of a poignant and award-winning documentary published in 2014 entitled “Alive Inside” which chronicles the experiences of people including Henry who were literally brought to life by hearing music from their past.  If you haven’t yet seen this riveting film, please make time to do so.

As one path leads to another in life, there was an overwhelming public response to Henry’s video which became a viral Internet phenomenon.   Henry’s story is also central to Alive Inside and helped raise global awareness and understanding of the expansive benefits of personalized music.

The documentary in turn helped raise charitable funding that led to the launch of Cohen’s Music & Memory℠ initiative that brings personalized playlists and iPods to residents in hundreds of nursing homes across the country and around the world.  Since its launch, the program has further expanded to serve people in hospice, adult day care, assisted living, hospital and home health care.

It is fascinating to see how human experiences, chance encounters and karma connected to create this captivating and mystical journey. Here are some of the insights I take away:

  1. Every human being is a beautiful tapestry of experiences, emotions and memories that live deep within our spirit.  We are all “Alive Inside”.
  2. There are many complex challenges associated with aging  in a culture that is insensitive and intolerant of the natural process of growing old.
  3. The aging experience is at times overbearing.  During these times, people are sometimes overwhelmed with natural feelings of sadness, loneliness and isolation.
  4. Music is a magical elixir that has transformational powers to spark the human spirit.  Music can restore our identity, return our dignity and bring us back to life, like nothing else can.
  5. By simply observing human nature, Dan Cohen with his abundant compassion and kindness began what has become a global initiative to rescue human spirits. What a legacy to leave the world.
  6. By sharing his human vulnerabilities, Henry jolted global awareness and understanding about the process of aging.  An Internet sensation at age 92,  Henry rocked our world over 15 million times. Now that’s what I call  “Amazing Grace”.
  7. Please, go hug a musician. These are the artists that dedicate their lifetimes to cultivate extraordinary crafts.  They create unforgettable rhythms, sounds and compositions that help define who we are, rekindle our memories and inspire us to live.
  8. Don’t wait for your own music rescue. Make time every day to enjoy your favorite music. Nurture your spirit and often revisit those indelible memories imprinted on your soul.
  9. Practice honoring and cherishing elders in the same way that you want love and respect as you grow old.
  10. Volunteer to spend time with lost and lonely people who yearn for a simple human touch of compassion and kindness.
  11. Join the movement  by  donating an old iPod, gift a new one or just simply contribute to Music & Memory℠ Project.
  12. Spark a spirit. Spread the word. To the magical elixir of music!

To me, this story serves as a simple reminder that every human being has the power to leave a positive imprint on this world as we pass through it.  What legacy will you leave?




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