Sing for Hope takes Veterans back in time with the Big Band Swing

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Sing for Hope Artist Partners guided veterans at Healing Arts Partner Site James J. Peters VA through hit music from 1928 to 1948 in a program replete with contemporary dance, costumes, and period-appropriate slang (what’s buzzin’, cousin?). But it was more than just a musical showcase—the Artist Partners framed each song in its historical context, from Calvin Coolidge and Prohibition to Glenn Miller and World War II.


The five-person cast, made up of Artist Partners Patrick Connolly, Linseigh Green, Emily Harkins, Danya Katok, and Lloyd Miller, spent many weeks in rehearsal for this production, which was crafted carefully not just for maximum entertainment value but to aid in memory recall.


The design of “Big Band Swing” is grounded both in psychological/healthcare research and in real-world demographics of the target population, so that the music selected draws on a chronological progression of music from VA constituents’ youth. Supporting research demonstrates the positive effects of music in memory-recall in patients with cognitive decline (Psychology Today 2013) and music’s ability to enhance autobiographical memory in patients with Alzheimer’s Disease (Educational Gerontology Journal 2012).


Sing for Hope’s custom playbill includes a section for “Reflections,” which SFH Artist Partners and VA staff use to guide veterans in recording their unfiltered responses to the show. The playbills, with photo reminders of the cast members and the residents’ own recorded memories, allow the experience’s cognitive benefits to continue even beyond the performance itself. The entertainment value, of course, is not to be minimized: one veteran told our cast, “I’ve seen it all. I’ve been to Vegas. And this was better than Vegas!”


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