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Porch Concerts For A Patient On The Cusp Of 100


by Mia Estrada 24 Jun 2020

Music has always been a part of Betty Sampler’s life. 

In the 1940s, Sampler sang and arranged music with her foursome “The Solidaires.” In the ’50s it was a lady barbershop group called the “Sweet Adelines.” And in the late ‘70s, the group “Swing Singers.”

“Oh gosh, we sang on the radio for years and oh we sang the pop music,” Sampler said. 

  • Betty Sampler (top right in left photo, lower left in right photo) and her group "The Solidares" in the 1940s. Photo Courtesy: Cindy Horstman

Today, Sampler is less than a month away from turning 100-years-old. She lives in a small assisted living home in Plano. 

The effects of age have taken a toll on Sampler. Her hearing is diminished. But every day, she plays the piano that her daughter Cindy Horstman, a harpist, bought for her. Before the pandemic, they played whenever Horstman visited. 

Betty Sampler sings happy birthday to her daughter Cindy Horstman during 9 a.m. visit. Video Courtesy: Cindy Horstman.

Now, Horstman has to keep her distance during visits. She can’t sit with her mom at the piano.

Karen Sholander, a music therapist with the Visiting Nurse Association of Texas (VNA), visits Sampler every other week. 

Karen Sholander visits Betty Sampler for a front porch concert visit. She visits Sampler every other week. Video Courtesy: Robin Plotkin, Visiting Nurse Association of Texas.

When coronavirus hit, Sholander had to get creative. So she set up front porch concerts for her patients. 

Sampler watches from her window with it cracked open a few inches. Sholander sings, plays a steel-string acoustic guitar with a blue flowered strap… and wears a mask.

“What led to the front porch concerts was really desperation,” Sholander said. “We weren’t able to go in anymore to visit with our patients one-on-one.” 

Each session is personalized. It’s not about performing. Sholander uses live music as an intervention. To help her patients share memories and process life changes. To ease physical and emotional pain. It’s become on the VNA’s most popular services. 

Karen Sholander doesn’t consider herself a performer, but created the front porch concerts out of desperation. Photo Courtesy: Robin Plotkin, Visiting Nurse Association of Texas

Before COVID -19, Sholander had patients play musical instruments, write music, or listen to music and talk about what it meant to them.

Hospice music therapists Karen Sholander and Jasmyne Marshall visit with a patient in 2019. Video by Visiting Nurse Association of Texas, YouTube.

Now, her job’s a challenge.  

“As a hospice music therapist, not always can my patients speak to me and give me the verbal feedback, so I’m used to watching their face, watching their breathing and anything and any kind of body motion to give me a clue to how they are receiving this music,” Sholander said.

Most of her patients are in their 80s or 90s. Sholander plays the music they grew up hearing — mostly big band and hits from the 1950s. 

She visits 7 facilities in Dallas and Plano, mainly small care homes. Sholander also does short visits by video chat and phone, for those who can’t get near a window or live in a strict facility that prohibits visitors.  

Betty Sampler and her daughter Cindy Horstman on Valentines Day, 2020. Now, Horstman visits Sampler every day. Photo Courtesy: Cindy Horstman

“And for the patients there, they are just happy to see someone,” Sholander said. There are so many homes where people are not able to go in and they only have television or FaceTime. They don’t always understand what’s going on when they are looking at a screen.” 

Music has always been essential for Sampler. She listens to it every day. And Horstman said after one year of music therapy, Sampler benefits from Sholander’s visits.

“It’s paramount. I think that it boosts her mood, it makes her feel better, it makes her feel comfortable, it calms her down,” Horstman said.

That therapy may look different during these times. But even singing happy birthday to Horstman through a care home window brings joy to Sampler. 

Got a tip? Email Mia Estrada at [email protected]. You can follow her on Twitter @miaaestrada.

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