Yarmouth music center nourishes its 'Deep Roots'

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YARMOUTH — New programming at 317 Main Community Music Center not only allows seniors to have more fun, but offers them a chance to improve their health.

Deep Roots is a series of music programs, including lessons, dancing, and concerts, aimed at people over the age of 55. The music and community center, located at 317 Main St. in Yarmouth, will also be expanding its offerings for babies and toddlers.

Communications Director Amy Sinclair said the programs are being created to engage more people with 317 Main and to provide more programs during the day.

“It started on a practical level,” she said. “We were brainstorming about ways to use more of the building and get people in the building during the day. The obvious way to go was both ends of the spectrum.”

The Little Roots programming for children is being expanded to offer classes to families and their babies from birth to 4 years old. The class will be held on Fridays at 9 a.m. for eight weeks starting Jan. 20. 

The senior programming will begin with a Deep Roots choral group and a great composers lecture series, both on Jan. 10 at 10 a.m. Both will meet every Friday and the two groups will have the opportunity to meet each week after class in the cafe at 317 Main.

Part of the Deep Roots programming includes encouraging more seniors to take part in existing 317 Main programs, such as private and group lessons, performance ensembles and singing groups, and English country dancing classes.

Directors at 317 Main said research has shown that music has a positive impact on the well-being of older adults.

“The data showed it was staving off early-onset Alzheimer’s and keeping people engaged socially,” Chris Moore, the director of music education, said.

Moore said he and others at 317 Main have been taking advantage of research by Dr. Gene Cohen, who had a study published by the National Center for Creative Aging in April 2006. Moore said Deep Roots was created using guidelines established by NCCA.

One thing creativity programs for seniors need is a social component. Moore said this can decrease feelings of isolation and loneliness often felt by seniors.

“You feel happier, you have something to look forward to,” Moore said of the effect music classes can have on older adults.

To be effective, programs must also have cognitive engagement and a physical activity component. It’s also important that the programs allow seniors to learn a new skill. Not only does mastering something new give people a sense of purpose, it allows their brains to work in new ways.

“When you’re learning something new, you’re creating new neural pathways,” Moore said.

Moore acknowledged, though, that “people are hesitant about things that are just good for them.” He said the Deep Roots programs are about more than staying in good health.

“It’s so much fun,” he said. “That’s what this is really about.”

Some of the first Deep Roots musicians can attest to that. Members of Unspent Youth, a band of older adults that practices at 317 Main, said getting involved in music has improved their quality of life.

“Sometimes I’ll come in feeling haggard and blue and when I leave here, I’m smiling for a couple of days,” South Freeport resident Dick Merrick said.

Jim Atherton, of West Bath, said playing with the band has reminded him of his youth.

“It’s playing music with guys our age that we used to play as kids, and it’s great,” he said.

Merrick said coming to 317 Main has allowed him to relax and enjoy his retirement.

“During my career I did what was necessary to get the job done,” he said. “Now I can go to creative places I couldn’t go before because I finally have the time.”

Moore said the time seniors have allows them to dedicate themselves to improving their musical skills and abilities.

“These guys have a lot of time to practice so they can get better faster,” he said.

Aside from the opportunity to play music, Merrick said the thing he’s most enjoyed about playing with a band is the connections he’s made with other people.

“It’s become more than a group of people playing and singing together,” he said. “We really care about each other and supporting each other’s music.”

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

As part of 317 Main Community Music Center’s new senior programming, teacher Jake Hoffman, far left, and the band Unspent Youth perform Monday afternoon at Blue Point Congregational Church in Scarborough.

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I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.