Elmer Aquino: Music as Connection

20 December, 2023 | Actionmarguerite, Profiles

Elmer Aquino loves to sing; new music, old music, any kind of music. He can do a spot-on impression of Louis Armstrong, or even, if you ask nicely, all the voices from the 1988 hit “We Are the World”. But he believes music is best when it’s shared, and so he shares his gifts with the residents of Actionmarguerite.

“I used to think that laughter was the best medicine, but I was wrong,” Aquino explains. “It’s music! Singing with residents has been such a wonderful experience. I often feel like I’ve become part of the family. When we sing together, grown children see their parents recall the past, become more alert and interested, and share stories of their lives. Music unlocks all of this.”

Aquino, who works at Actionmarguerite as an Accounting Clerk, and volunteers his time at all three sites to sing with residents, underlines that music leads directly to connection and well-being. “We’re always giving to each other when we sing,” he says. “Sometimes, residents are lonely. And if they sit in their rooms by themselves, who knows where their minds will go? But if they are in their rooms after singing and remembering together, they will retain the music, not the sadness. It echoes.”

While residents often perk up at the sound of songs from their youth, or music they used to dance to as teenagers, the benefits are two-sided. “I’m already 64,” he admits with a laugh. “But this makes me feel young! Even as I age, I’ll keep going. It’s not only that I make others happy, but they make me happy, too.”

When asked about a special memory, Aquino has to sift through many to decide which to share. “One resident had her birthday and she requested that I sing ‘Good Night, Irene’ in honour of her day,” he remembers. “I didn’t know that one, so I learned it and came back the next week. Every time I sang it after that, she would come to the front of the room and sing with me.”

Months later, the resident had entered palliative care and wasn’t conscious when Aquino stopped by to visit. By then, some pandemic restrictions had come into place, as well, so he wasn’t able to be near residents to ensure their safety. “I recorded myself singing her favourite song, and when I played it for her from a distance, I saw her face soften and watched her relax. It seems it brought her some peace.”

“When I came to work the next day, I found out that she had passed away in the early morning hours,” Aquino says in a voice thick with emotion. After a pause to collect himself, he continues, “It’s really special, what we had together, you know? Some residents have dementia or Alzheimer’s, but when we sing, their faces just light up. There’s always a big smile. Our time together with music is such a gift.”

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If you have a special gift or talent that you’d like to share with residents at Actionmarguerite or one of our other network members, please click here.