- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 23, 2015

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - Floyd Beukelman’s 87 years of life have been full of crescendos, diminuendos and legatos - so how better to set his story to music than with a five-piece orchestra?

He survived a ruptured appendix as a boy in the 1930s, married the love of his life and had four children in the 1950s and lived through a fiery crash in the 1990s - ups and downs that he got through, he says, thanks to faith and family.

Beukelman was the first of several seniors at a Sioux Falls retirement community to share his memories as the Dakota Wind Quintet provided a musical complement following each set of stories by performing a piece similar in mood. The “Memoirs in Music” program, organized by the state’s symphony orchestra and an area health care system, gives seniors a welcome distraction from everyday life but organizers say it can also use music therapy to help them create social connections and relieve stress.

On a cold December afternoon, about four dozen residents of the Avera Prince of Peace Retirement Community gathered to hear from Beukelman. Because he has difficulty speaking for extended periods, he was interviewed ahead of time. A narrator read his memories and played audio clips of his interview throughout the presentation.

Among the stories was one of his earliest memories: the day he felt sick at school and ended up hospitalized.

“In those days, if you had a broken appendix, more than likely you would die. I was there for 24 days … but God saw fit to get me through that. That was the first miracle in my life,” the narrator read from Beukelman’s memories before the musicians began to play the first movement of Beethoven’s “Octet in E-Flat Major” for winds, arranged for a quintet.

The musicians played a clarinet, flute, bassoon, oboe and horn. The event featured six arrangements, including pieces by composers Haydn and Beethoven.

Music as therapy has a tradition that includes use after both world wars, when amateur and professional players would visit veterans hospitals to perform for soldiers suffering from physical and mental illnesses. It’s been shown to help alleviate pain, enhance memory and soothe stress, and is used in neonatal intensive care units, behavioral health hospitals, correctional centers, nursing homes and other facilities.

Musicians with the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra, five of whom make up the Dakota Wind Quintet, have performed for cancer and pediatric patients, people under hospice care and others at medical facilities in Sioux Falls. Beukelman’s presentation will be followed by at least two more over the next few months.

“What a neat opportunity to allow these people who have such a tremendous amount to share to be able to do that, and you add the musical element to it, and it provides an opportunity for reflection on some really powerful things that they have to say,” said Jennifer Boomgaarden, executive director of the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra.

During the presentation, photos of Beukelman as a child, of his wife and their wedding portrait were also projected on a screen.

In one story, he described meeting his wife.

“In those days - when I tell you this you’ll think, ‘Oh, my’ - on Sunday evenings, girls would walk streets,” the narrator, Darrel Fickbohm, read from the stories Beukelman told him. “There’d be from four to eight girls in a group. And they would walk together down the street.”

He was at a church event when he first spotted Elda.

“I saw her in the back, and I asked somebody, ‘Who is that?’ And he told me.”

They married the next year, on June 20, 1950. The quintet followed the story with “Nearer, My God to Thee” from Gwyneth Walker’s “Braintree Quintet.”

Mark Vande Braak, a music therapist for three decades, said programs like “Memoirs in Music” can help residents in the facility identify with each other and create a sense of community.

“It activates the neurons in our brain going, ‘Oh, yeah. We did this, too,’ and it generates conversation,” said Vande Braak, who practices in Sioux Falls with Avera Health. “It’s beneficial for everybody. You get a familiarity or similarity. We don’t sometimes have the family that visit, but we have a family within our setting.”

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