Around the open room, some heads are bowed, and others are looking around with anticipation. Then Patty McCourt arrives for the singalong residents have been waiting for.
The piano is opened, and song books are handed out efficiently. It’s a no-nonsense process, done with care and the help of fellow singalong volunteers Ethel and Mary.
These are well-oiled volunteers whose rapport and ease with residents and understanding of the art of singalong is well honed over almost 10 years.
Song books are open, and anticipation grows.
It begins with a light rhythmic raise of the foot, and toes start wiggling.
Patty sits bolt upright at the piano and turns her head right around to ask, “How about the Chattanooga Choo-choo?”. The slight smiles of familiarity show up on faces.
The Sister of Mercy of 18 years, teacher for 40, who loved getting students in all her schools to sing and entertain, was taught by Sr. Helen Mary and then by Sr. Mary Trea, who began the singalong at Emmaus and who warmly welcomed Patty into the group when she finished teaching.
As a matter of fact, Patty says, “My whole life has been coloured by music.”
“My mum was in a nursing home,” she explains.
“I saw what it did for her, music is so important. It brings back memories. Residents who would otherwise sit in their room, they come in when they know it’s time for singalong.
“They tap their fingers and tap their feet. The music is part of their story.”
And back in time they go.
Scientists apparently call it the ‘reminiscence bump’—when memories are stimulated by music and take us back to particular times in our lives. It may be their teenage years, it may be the first dance when they met their first beau, or even memories of sitting around the wireless with their families.
By the third song, the residents are relaxed and really getting into the swing of When Irish Eyes Are Smiling, Gypsie Rover, Alexander’s Ragtime Band, and not to forget, After The Ball.
Patty says she feels “utter joy” when it’s time to head to Mercy Community for her weekly volunteer singalong sessions.
“I’ve got to know them, and they welcome me,” she adds.
Patty loves giving back, so she’s there week after week at Emmaus and Mary Damian, with Ethel and Mary, both also in their eighties, to get the residents laughing and smiling.
In 2021 Patty was given the Outstanding Volunteer Award during Mercy Community’s Mercy Day celebrations. It’s an award that recognizes and honours a volunteer who has passionately and selflessly made an extraordinary contribution at Mercy Community to support people in our care through their volunteering services.
And it’s an award so well-deserved by Patty, humble as she takes the accolade.
“I felt surprised and very humbled when I heard,” she says.
“It’s a wonderful part of being in the Mercy family.”