It is the afternoon and we are in a nursing home. There is a guy with a guitar playing to a row of armchairs filled with nine elderly women in various stages of alertness.
It is not an obviously enthusiastic audience, one is passed out seemingly unaware of all that is going on around her, another is staring vacantly off, whilst Daphne is walking about looking for the cows her mother asked her to get in 60 odd years ago. There at the end of the row is a lady sitting correctly in her buttoned up cardigan looking at the singer intently but with a frown. As for the others they are sitting, some in comfort, others in some pain but all just sitting, passively letting things happen around them but they all have one thing in common.... every one of them has a foot tapping in time to the music.A dementia unit might not be everyone's ideal place to spend an afternoon but for music man Greg Forward it is a satisfying experience, so much so he repeats it most week days. What could he get out of it? If you were to ask him I am sure he would answer that it is not what he gets that is important but what they get that counts.
And what they get varies... for some they get to go back in their mind to happier times filled with romance and fun. They get the joy of singing like they used to with their families and friends. They get to be someone special when he sings their favourite song. They get to have fun and play.
Greg will no doubt tell you it is the music they respond to but I think his genuine interest in his audience and what they would like to hear accounts for much. Greg playfully interacts with the residents, quizzing them about songs and singers, changing up the lyrics to suit the mood in the room, he shares an hour of their time giving generously of his talents.
With nothing but his beautiful twelve string guitar and voice he weaves an atmosphere that allows the residents an opportunity to remember and be personally entertained in a show made just for them. By the end of the hour there are hands clapping, some dancing, life is being lived and those feet, well they are still tapping.
Article contributed by AJ Plate
I spend much of my days playing my 12 string guitar and singing in nursing homes in South East Queensland and Sydney. I have been doing this for over two years now, it is so fulfilling. Every day is different and the reactions from the oldies are priceless.
It is a real blessing to bring back memories and allow them to just reminisce.
It is such a privilege to meet some truly amazing Australian citizens who have given so much to this country and are now in the final years of their lives but still have stories and memories to share. For some the body may be failing but the mind is still active, yet for others the body is strong but the mind has long seen better days. Yet on many occasions there is a spark, that the music ignites and they just come to life and you get to see a glimpse of what they where in days gone by.
I am in no way qualified with any formal training to do what I do, but I have experienced the power of music to restore my mind and body after my own health trauma in August 2012, in which I lost the use of the left side of my body and my ability to speak. Through music I learnt to talk and communicate again and with persistence I can now feel the vibration of the strings of my 12 string guitar in the fingers of my left hand.
I have a truly amazing and blessed opportunity on a daily basis to experience the joy that music can bring to a human being. It touches the soul in a way that nothing else can.
2012 saw Greg Forward in a hospital, unable to speak.
Later being informed that he had suffered a major stroke, leaving him with no communication or movement down the left side of his body. After lots of rehab and very little improvement, doctors asked if Greg had ever played music before. His guitar was dusted off and brought in from home.
It took Greg weeks to be able to even hold the guitar properly and months before he could make a tune. Greg could still not speak, however, was making progress with his mobility through his music. Eventually the doctors said to Greg “Try singing what you want to say”. This was life changing for Greg because as soon as he put a tune to it, he could say what he wanted to say with little effort and much better clarity.
As Greg said “the vocal box is halfway between the brain and the heart and both need to be connected to engage in communication”.
“I tell all of my audiences now that the more they sing…well the better I sound!” Greg certainly gets the residents toes tapping and vocal cords communicating. Greg is happy to give back to others, because he feels that he has been given a gift that he never knew he had!
Using his name as his own inspiration “Moving forward - giving back” is Greg’s daily motto.