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Singing Familiar Tunes with Smile Theatre

September 10, 2020

Guest Blog Submission by Smile Theatre

“You’ve made my day, month, and year!” -  Gail, a Happy Call Recipient

This is a frequent refrain Smile Theatre has received in response to our new free online programming. Smile Theatre is a registered charity that for over 50 years has created not only professional musical theatre productions, but also offered innovative programming and resources for care workers and family members, to animate interactions with loved ones in long-term care. We believe that music and theatre are powerful tools to provide connection, community and joy for seniors, so we bring laughter, song, dance and stories to help lift spirits and create togetherness – which we all need so desperately in this current climate.

For people living with dementia, music “can improve mood, behavior, and in some cases cognitive function, which can persist for hours and days after the music stops. Music also does not need to be familiar to exert these improvements and one does not need to have any formal knowledge of music or be musically inclined to enjoy music and respond to it at the deepest level.” (Devere). One scientific study showed that a group of seniors with dementia who received professional theatre programming were able to recall significantly more memories after the session. They were also happier and showed behavior that expressed they felt more at home compared to seniors who did not receive the programming, or similar programming facilitated by care staff (A. M. van Dijk et al.). Music has the ability to contribute to the quality of life of seniors. It can create feelings of positive self esteem, competence, and independence, as well as lessening social isolation. Other studies have shown that it can conjure memories in those with cognitive impairments. People who suffer with memory loss still have the ability to sing along and dance to a song they recognize. When investigating how this is possible, “research has… indicated that musical abilities and memories may not be connected to deterioration in the brain relating to speech and language, raising the possibility of music as a non-verbal form of communication for people with dementia” (Sixsmith & Gibson).

At Smile Theatre, we have seen this proven time and time again as seniors with dementia show drastic improvement in communication abilities once we begin to sing familiar tunes. Recently, when a performer called Lou, a Happy Call nominee (a phone call to connect with isolated seniors from a distance), they were told he might not understand or be able to respond appropriately. However, when the performer began to sing a jazz song that they had been told he loved, Lou began to sing along, and was able to continue a full, coherent conversation after the music stopped. Lou welcomed a call back, “whenever you find another jazz song!”

During this time of physical distancing, Smile Theatre’s new, free online offerings continue to provide these positive and essential experiences. Our current free of charge programming includes:

The Smile Playlist

A weekly online playlist of one-song videos that feature performances by energetic, youthful singers of familiar songs, interwoven with stories and interactive activities, easily accessible by any device - just one click to access a meaningful experience on your visit with your loved one.

Happy Calls

A lively phone call or video chat with two friendly performers. Participants receive a call and have a relaxed conversation and songs sung just for them. Requests and singing along are welcomed and encouraged!

Video Chat Serenades

Join a group of animated young singers, live from your very own computer, for singing, chatting, and dancing. Spend a fun and relaxed time sharing music and stories together, always with lots of fun and energy.

Digital Performances

Enjoy an accessible and engaging digital performance with your loved one. A growing roster of performances created specifically for seniors living in care.

Distanced Performances for Care Homes

Sit back and relax with your loved one and let Smile Theatre’s Serenaders provide the sunshine as they sing and interact from a distance during courtyard and sidewalk performances.

The feedback we have already received as we explore how to expand our distanced reach has only proven how necessary this programming is in this isolating time.

“That made me feel very happy and energized!” - Linda, a Virtual Serenade Audience Member

"This is just beautiful, you don't know how much that meant to me."  - Phyllis, a Happy Call

“That puts a smile on MY face!” - Marjorie, a Happy Call

“I have a big backyard, why don’t you just come over!” - Irene, a Happy Call

“I heard it was Smile Theatre, so I perked right up!” - Rhoda, a Happy Call

For more information please visit or email


Works Cited

Devere, Ronald. “Music and Dementia: An Overview.” Practical Neurology, Bryn Mawr Communications, June 2017,

Dijk, A. Marijke Van, et al. “Does Theatre Improve the Quality of Life of People with Dementia?” International Psychogeriatrics, vol. 24, no. 3, 2012, pp. 367–381., doi:10.1017/s1041610211001992.

Sixsmith, Andrew, and Grant Gibson. “Music and the Wellbeing of People with Dementia.” Ageing and Society, vol. 27, no. 1, 2007, pp. 127–145., doi:10.1017/s0144686x06005228.