Harry Reid
United States Senator
Special Committee on Aging
Washington, D.C.

I have recently had several opportunities to see Young at Heart in action in my home state of Nevada. The founder of Young at Heart, Sean Seman, who sings and plays guitar, and James "Fingers" Shupe, a national fiddle champion, traveled to Las Vegas to do an extensive tour of fifteen nursing homes and senior centers over a ten day period, and I was able to spend one of those days with him. Simply put, the music and the program are wonderful.

Everywhere these enthusiastic musicians went, the shows were a big hit. I can give examples of people who have been brought back to life as a result of Young at Heart performances. On one occasion, Sean and Fingers performed in a Las Vegas convalescent center and when the music started, I saw an older woman in the front row who was bent over, her chin drooped down almost to her neck. She was in an almost comatose trance. As the minutes wore on, suddenly her head was up and she was part of the program. By the end of the show, she was smiling, clapping, sitting up and singing along. She seemed like a completely different person. Similar transformations also occurred to other residents.

Perhaps the most miraculous event occurred during room visits, which Young at Heart performers regularly make after their shows to visit individual patients who may be so sick that they are bound to their rooms. Fingers visited Carmela, a resident who had refused to come out of her room for years. He went with my wife, who tried to get Carmela to talk and to get interested in what was going on. The music got Carmela interested. she talked about her children, and eventually Fingers and my wife had to move on. Carmela proceeded to put on her clothes and follow him around the home as he played for others. The nursing home staff was amazed.

What I saw in these performances convinced me that music can really have a profound effect on older persons -- and we need to ensure that our senior citizens have access to these benefits. Young at Heart is all about bringing people like Carmela back to life. As health care costs spiral out of control, we need to consider such new, inexpensive approaches. Groups like Young at Heart prove that music can work like preventive medicine, and we need more of that to face our current health care crisis. Nobody does it better than Young at Heart -- they are the real pros.

One of the best things about young at Heart is that they play songs from the 20's, 30's, and 40's -- music popular when seniors were young. I chaired a hearing of the Senate Aging committee where we examined music therapy. Leading researchers testified that these old favorites are the most effective type of music with senior citizens. Dr. Oliver Sacks, author of Awakenings, which became and Oscar-nominated movie starring Robin Williams, testified at the hearing. He testified that just any music won't work with any patient -- but the right music can have profound effects. Young at Heart takes the time to learn the songs that work best -- and their deep impact on audiences proves it.

Another witness at the hearing, singer and actor Theodore Bikel, best explained why live programs like Young at Heart are so important. He asked, "Do tapes and records furnished to the elderly have the same beneficial effect as a live musical experience? I doubt it. If it is true that pets are a source of great comfort and healing for the elderly, then surely toy dogs won't be just as good."

Young at Heart is living proof that live music can remind older persons how it is to be healthier, happier and more fulfilled. Musicians who care about their elders can bring joy and even new life to those confined to institutions or wheelchairs. I am working to see that programs modeled on Young at Heart expand nationwide, because I can see the need for similar efforts in every nursing home in the United States.

"I agree with you that the Orange County Pilot Project Program was a great success. I received numerous comments from the participants and the senior center site coordinators. Among the 255 responses only two responded negatively. Some of the most touching comments from the seniors were "absolutely great, made me forget my troubles for awhile, thank you", "older shut-ins will love this show", and "that all entertainers maintain good health through preventive medicine, so they can continue to spread joy and fulfillment for those, at this age, are usually separated from family by miles or death. Music and fond memories is better than any dose of medicine.

"I have included a copy of the evaluations provided by the site coordinators. It was a pleasure working with you on this wonderful program."

Peggy Weatherspoon, Director
Community Services Agency
Area Agency on Aging
1300 S. Grand Ave. Bldg. B
Santa Ana, CA 92705

"As the Executive Director of two agencies that have funded the Young at Heart Project since its inception, I feel that I can speak with some experience of its merits. When you first approached the Cultural Council of Santa Cruz county for a Project grant you were a musician with a vision.

"The vision was based on your first hand experience that music can bring joy and solace to older people living out their lives in nursing homes. With some management assistance and a small grant, the elements were created that survived and thrive as Young at Heart. Throughout the evolution of this project, the Boards of the Cultural Council and now the Community Foundation of Santa Cruz County have been impressed with the depth of commitment and artistic quality of the people involved.

"It is my feeling that the Young at Heart project has proven that your basic premise works. I also feel that after more than ten years of work, the structure of this organization can be easily replicated. Funding, as always, is a major issue for a nonprofit organization but Young at Heart's creativity and perseverance has opened many a door that would at first glance be closed. State and Federal funds allocated for senior services, mental health and wellness money, as well as arts funding have all been tapped to everyone's satisfaction.

"The measure of respect that we owe our senior citizens is at the core of Young at Heart. The project has made countless individual and their families aware of the healing power of the arts. I can give no stronger recommendation than one of a funder who feels that money given to this project is money well spent. The outcomes are clear and valued. Good luck in the future and please continue to sing out!"

Lance Linares
Executive Director
The Community Foundation of Santa Cruz County
2425 Porter St. Suite 16
Soquel, CA 95073 

"Everyone Here at Mt. Pleasant would like to extend our greatest appreciation for the entertainment you have granted this past year. It has been great joy and we looked forward to the upbeat attitude all your performers instilled.

"The program helped promote/stimulate the mental, physical and psychosocial wellbeing of our residents. Thank you again for your heartfelt contribution and we all look forward to next year's programs."

Joyce Gonzalez

Tina Ferguson
Activity Director

Adrianne Rodriguez
Assistant Activity Director

and all our wonderful residents and staff at Mt. Pleasant
Mt. Pleasant Convalescent Hospital Inc.
1355 Clayton Rd.
San Jose, CA 95127 

"Young at Heart has now been bringing music to the elderly for over 10 years. Its collection of musicians, under the artistic direction of its founder, Sean Seman, has enriched and enlivened homes , retirement communities, and senior citizen centers in Santa Cruz and Santa Clara County. In the process, Young at Heart has won the enthusiastic support of its targeted population. It has also won support in the United States Senate, which agrees that the lives of older adults should be reopened to the stimulation of the arts. Now, Young at Heart seeks to expand its efforts further, enlarging its presence within its familiar territory in California, and staking new ground in locations on the East Coast. Young at Heart is on the threshold of emerging as a national charitable organization.

"Even though psychologist have long known that routine, unvarying environments can dull the cognitive capacities of human beings, it is only relatively recently that this realization has sparked efforts to bring music to the lives of elderly Americans. Young at Heart can be proud that it has been in the vanguard of attempts to improve the health and well-being of the elderly through such environmental enrichment.

"How does music improve the well-being of the elderly? First of all, music speaks to the deepest emotional parts of us. It has the capacity to stimulate as well as to calm, and is even used in some forms of therapy. Young at Heart improves upon this by bringing the music of former times to adults. The music reawakens personal and historical memories related to the era when it was popular, allowing our elderly citizens to actively reminisce in a healthy fashion. The reminiscing itself is a from of cognitive stimulation identified by psychological research as being critically important for the mental capacities of the elderly. At an even more basic level, people simply enjoy it. Can we put a price on bringing such increased well-being and enjoyment to those who have given so much to us?

"One of the more amazing aspects of Young at Heart as a charitable organization is the amount of programming it produces under a rather limited budget. No other organization stages literally hundreds of shows annually at anywhere near a comparable cost. It is a lean, well-run organization with just one goal: to better the lives of elderly Americans through music. I strongly encourage you to support Young at Heart as it moves into its second decade of service to older adults."

Robert J. Moretti, Ph.D.
Associate Clinical Professor
Northwestern University Medical School
Division of Psychology
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
Ward Building 12-138
303 East Chicago Avenue
(312) 908-8262

"Through you we realized how the institutionalized elderly are deprived of the social stimuli we take for granted. Young are Heart effectively demonstrates how therapeutic music can be to enrich the lives of our older citizens."
Bob Seman
President Rotary Club of Santa Cruz Sunrise

"Music and song bring pleasure in a way unparalleled by anything else, and the talent and professional presence of the Young at Heart entertainers have made any event at which they perform a guaranteed success."
Laura Scribner, Senior Program Supervisor
City of Santa Cruz Parks and Recreation

"He takes us back some fifty years or more. We recapture our many happy years when we danced and sang to those songs. It's good to forget our aches and pains. I'm still trying to be Young at Heart."
Daisy Patton Hoffman
Resident, senior facility

"I have seen a woman who seemed catatonic suddenly came to life and shout out lines from an almost-forgotten song. There is an electricity generated by a skilled professional which is not usually equaled by even the most sincere amateur."
Jennifer Davis
Executive Director, Area Agency on Aging

"As a long supporter of senior issues, I see the critical need for such programs like this that demonstrate the commitment to the needs of our senior citizens."
Henry J. Mello
State Senator 17th District

"Your selection of professional entertainers is great and keeps the residents looking forward to the next one."
Ruth B. Findlay
Owner, Batterson Convalescent Hospital

"Long-term-care resident, staff and visitors express delight and enthusiasm for the professional performances delivered with sensitivity and care by the Young at Heart entertainers. The value to residents is immeasurable."
Lucille Des Jardins
Executive Director, Ombudsman/Advocate, Inc. 

"All residents were looking, some moving feet to the music. Penny talked about the era of the music and kept the residents' interest. She brought the music alive each song. Penny is a great entertainer and the residents love the music."
Mary L. Segar
Activity Director, Mountain View Health Care Center, Mountain View, CA

"Thank you for a beautiful performance. All the seniors enjoyed all the music, the stories and sing-a-long with Karin. She’s a wonderful and great performer."
Lourdes Yashar
Activity Director, Accentuate The Positive, San Jose, CA

Performance Reviews From Our Senior Living Facilities:

On Steve Kritzer:
"Steve's always puts on a fantastic show ! He's knowledgeable of the songs/artists. The residents enjoy the one on one interaction during the programs! Everone looks forward to the show."
Audua Bowline, Activities Director
Mt. View Health Care

On Steve Kritzer:
"We love Steve. He always makes the residents feel good and the residents are always happy after his performance. On behalf of the Sunnyview residents, thanks so much for making the seniors happy."
Terry Becker, Activities Director
Sunnyview Lutheran Home

On Ginny Mitchell:
"It's always just wonderful to have you! Your show is so fun and your stories are very nice."
Kelly Kinney, Activities Director
Live Oak Adult Day Cupertino

On Fred McCarty:
"The residents enjoyed new songs and remembering the old favorites. Residents like the lively songs and enjoyed joining in."
Robbie Shoemaker, Activities Director
Santa Cruz Healthcare

On Karin Phoenix:
"We always have a lot of fun with Karin. We are very happy to have had her today. We all had a great time!"
Lourdes Yashar, Activities Director
Rose Meadows Elder Care

On Fred McCarty:
"Awesome as always! Thank you very much for using music to reminisce with our residents. We loved The Nelsons!"
Angelo Manano, Activities Director
Pacific Coast Care

On Chip Curry:
"Chip was good with the residents. They sang along with him and had a good time. Our residents like Young at Heart."
Chung Hee, Activities Director
Cedar Crest Nursing Home

On Shanna Carlson:
"What a great voice! Shanna is a great musician and singer. Her connection with the audience was precious. We loved her, as always!"
Gina Puccinelli, Activities Director
Park Lane

On Mark Watson:
"The residents enjoyed Mark's singing. Residents were smiling along and clapping their hands."
Chloe Dixon, Activities Director
Pacific Hills Manor

On Fred McCarty:
"Fred is a great performer and the residents love him. He interacts with them throughout his whole program, which is great."
Don Wendell, Activities Director
Pacific Gardens

On Johnny Fabulous:
"Johnny's show Cole's Kingdom was excellent! Many of our seniors said it was the best ever!"
Nancy Smith, Coordinator of the Alliance on Aging Luncheon, Salinas

On Sean Seman:
"A true performer. The residents enjoyed his performance. Glad to have Young at Heart performers come and share their talents with our residents and staff."
Jose Yanez, Activities Director
Gilroy Health Skilled Nursing