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Dan Cohen of Right to Music: “Getting together with family and friends in person when possible or online”

I find technology has the under-utilized potential to provide great benefits to many of our most vulnerable citizens. One of those benefits is leveraging technology to give people better access to the music they love. In a nursing home, I was introduced to John, a resident who was unintelligible in his verbal response as I […]

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I find technology has the under-utilized potential to provide great benefits to many of our most vulnerable citizens. One of those benefits is leveraging technology to give people better access to the music they love. In a nursing home, I was introduced to John, a resident who was unintelligible in his verbal response as I explained that I was going to put on headphones that will play music that his family told me he liked. After he listened to the music for about 30 minutes, I came back to see how he was doing and to my amazement he starts telling me how much he enjoyed the music. His articulate speech was a total surprise. I couldn’t believe it. I later asked a speech therapist if she ever heard of such a thing, to which she said yes, definitely, this happens for some people who benefit from music in this way.


Many ancient traditions around the world believe ‘wellbeing’ or ‘bienestar’ is a state of harmony within ourselves and our world, where we are in balance mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

As a part of our series about “How We Can Cultivate Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dan Cohen, MSW, principal of Right to Music, advocating for widespread adoption of personal music for those we care for. He was founder of Music & Memory, a nonprofit organization that promotes the use of personalized music to improve the lives of the elderly and infirm. The therapeutic outcomes of his work are portrayed in the documentary, “Alive Inside,” which won the 2014 Sundance Audience Award. He has trained more than 5,000 long-term care homes, hospitals, hospices, and home care programs across North America, Europe, and Australia.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I grew up on Long Island, New York with my parents and younger sister. My father was an identical twin. He was a court reporter, so taught me how to type at 8 years old and shorthand at 10, both of which were useful taking notes in school and earning money typing reports for fellow students.

What or who inspired you to pursue a career in helping others? We’d love to hear the story. None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

Starting back when I was in college, I wanted to do something meaningful, so I volunteered and coordinated volunteer programs at the local jail and orphanage. A consortium of colleges was looking for someone to grow and coordinate volunteer and community service programs across 17 college campuses. I was hired and loved that work. Dr. Bill Heston, vice president of a local university, ran the consortium and supported my efforts. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t recognize my father who modeled persistence (and good English) in his drive to be the world’s speed champion in the specialized profession of court reporting.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of pursuing your passion?

I used to think that a good idea would be acknowledged by just about everyone.

What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

That that’s not true.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?

Great things take time.

Why does that resonate with you so much?

Any effort at real change takes a whole lot more time than one would initially think.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

I find technology has the under-utilized potential to provide great benefits to many of our most vulnerable citizens. One of those benefits is leveraging technology to give people better access to the music they love. In a nursing home, I was introduced to John, a resident who was unintelligible in his verbal response as I explained that I was going to put on headphones that will play music that his family told me he liked. After he listened to the music for about 30 minutes, I came back to see how he was doing and to my amazement he starts telling me how much he enjoyed the music. His articulate speech was a total surprise. I couldn’t believe it. I later asked a speech therapist if she ever heard of such a thing, to which she said yes, definitely, this happens for some people who benefit from music in this way.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. In my writing, I talk about cultivating wellbeing habits in our lives, in order to be strong, vibrant and powerful co- creators of a better society. What we create is a reflection of how we think and feel. When we get back to a state of wellbeing and begin to create from that place, the outside world will reflect this state of wellbeing. Let’s dive deeper into this together. Based on your experience, can you share with our readers three good habits that can lead to optimum mental wellbeing? Please share a story or example for each.

For me music is as important as ever. It’s an anytime pick-me-up. Especially smart speakers which will play any songs or groups you’re in the mood for. I like to ask it to play Top 25 songs from years when I was younger. I also have streaming music ready-to-go on my phone and in my car.

During the pandemic, I’ve been trying to keep in closer touch with family and friends, even if it is via Zoom/Facetime/Skype, it still helps keep us connected.

Exercise — I’ve been doing yoga since I was young, as the stretching helps keep me calm and centered.

Do you have a specific type of meditation practice that you have found helpful? We’d love to hear about it.

My yoga would come nearest to that, although it’s more of a hatha yoga, which I have done for the past 40 plus years, every morning for 22 minutes.

Thank you for that. Do you have any particular thoughts about healthy eating? We all know that its important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, etc. But while we know it intellectually, its often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are some great ways to begin to integrate it into our lives?

I’ve always been frustrated by cookbooks or food web sites with recipes that disappoint, that include ingredients or utensils that are hard to find or have way too many steps. The exception to this was the community web site allrecipes.com where all recipes are submitted and rated by a community of users. This makes it easy to identify 5-star dishes that usually have streamlined preparation and fewer, more easily found ingredients.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum emotional wellbeing? Please share a story or example for each.

  • Listening to my favorite music whenever I can. Music helps create moods and regulate emotions. This is a tool I use regularly.
  • Yoga/exercise. Every morning my yoga practice centers me and prepares me for my day. It is time I spend in solitary exercise, stretching, breathing exercises and intentional movement.
  • Getting together with family and friends in person when possible or online. The connection to family and friends is crucial to my well-being.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

The movement would be to make sure that every person, no matter how old, how compromised physically or cognitively, has easy access to their favorite music. Once they have their music, there is the added bonus of sharing it with others, listening to facilitate exercise (as we see so often with athletes), and its contribution to overall well-being.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Righttomusic.com

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.


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