PORTLAND PRESS HERALD - AUDIENCE FEATURE
(APRIL 2, 2017)
HEARING IS BELIEVING . . .
Sorcha Cribben-Merrill shares the healing power of music with young and old
BY RAY ROUTHIER, STAFF WRITER
"Carrying a guitar in one hand and a banjo in the other, Sorcha Cribben-Merrill walked down the long hallways of Saint Joseph’s Rehabilitation and Residence in Portland, announcing brightly, “There’s gonna be music here today.”
As she tuned up her acoustic guitar, two women sat quietly in armchairs in a corner of the performance room, blank expressions on their faces. A few others were in the room, too, not paying her much attention.
“Are you ready for some music?” asked Cribben-Merrill, looking at the women in the corner. “Maybe some Hank Williams, in just a minute.”
Within seconds of launching into “Hey Good Lookin,” Cribben-Merrill had her answer. One short white-haired woman lifted her feet off the ground and began tapping her fuzzy slippers together to the beat. The woman next to her patted the arm of her chair with one hand and her leg with the other, all in time to Williams’ 1951 country classic. A couple songs later, both women were standing and dancing, gingerly, while holding hands with nurses. During the hour that she played, Cribben-Merrill got about a dozen residents of the memory care unit moving and dancing, including several in wheelchairs who were spun and twirled by nurses. One tall man followed Cribben-Merrill around as she played, mouthing some of the words. People who rarely engage with outsiders, some with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, were thoroughly into Cribben-Merrill and her music.
“It’s very unusual for most of them to be so engaged, but Sorcha makes eye contact with them and she makes them feel safe,” said Susan Stadnicki, one of the nurses on duty while Cribben-Merrill played. “As a nurse, I love to see the way they react to her. I wish she was here more.”
Cribben-Merrill, 35, is a Portland-based singer-songwriter who records albums and plays gigs all over the country. But for the past six years or so, she’s also been playing at two Portland assisted living facilities, Saint Joseph’s and Fallbrook Woods, every month or two. She’s also helped create music for the Center for Grieving Children in Portland, where she has been a volunteer, and worked with teen mothers in Midcoast Maine to bond with their babies through music as part of Carnegie Hall’s national Lullaby Project. Last December, she got a $1,500 grant from the Massachusetts-based Iguana Music Fund, which she plans to use to cover the cost of traveling to and playing 10 additional assisted-living facilities around the country. She gets paid to play at Saint Joseph’s and Fallbrook Woods, but she wants to bring her music to places that have no budget for music as well . . ."