Skip to main content

Harry’s Holiday Music: A Story of How Music Transcends Words and Dementia

It was just before Christmas when Harry invited me to spend an evening with him and his family. The suggestion I should come to his home to facilitate a music-filled evening included a very compelling reason: “It is the first time in ten years that all my children will be home for Christmas, and I want to make it special for them.”

He went on to explain, “You said that by giving people a choice of song, you are giving every person a voice and an opportunity to teach you something about themselves. I want to hear what is important to my children and create an evening to remember.” How could I resist?

It certainly was an evening to remember — full of songs, stories, emotions, and heartfelt family spirit. Music, the consummate connector, was at work again, keeping Harry’s family entertained and, more importantly, helping them to tap into their feelings about the people around them and the experiences they were sharing. The songs were recorded and became part of a Family Christmas Playlist for everyone to take home as their gift from Harry.

A month later, I received the following letter.

Dear Jennifer,

I can’t thank you enough for coming to my home at Christmas time. It was the “special time” I knew it would be. What I didn’t mention to you then is that I have been experiencing extreme and unusual mood swings. These changes in behavior have been very difficult and frustrating for my family. They have been very worried. Just shortly after Christmas I was given the diagnosis I was expecting. I have Alzheimer’s disease. Last Christmas may be my last Christmas I remember with my family. I hope the music will continue to trigger the special memories we shared that evening.

Thank you for the gift of music.


As strongly as music can be used to help us remember, perhaps it is equally as good at helping us forget the other things going on in our life just for a while. It doesn’t get rid of the cause of our stresses, but it can create space around our spirit, for a few hours or even for a few minutes, and give us relief from those stresses. We can use that space to help find a glimpse of where we want to go and maybe even give us the resolve to find a way to get there.


Written by Jennifer Buchanan, Founder and President of JB Music Therapy