We’re a group of high school students in Southern Maine who visit local nursing homes weekly, bringing musical therapy to the elderly. Using donated iPods, we primarily work with residents who have Alzheimer’s to help reduce anxiety and foster joyful interactions. Residents often enjoy their music during downtime, physical therapy sessions, or afternoon tea.

Many of these residents have an individualized music playlist featuring their favorite songs, artists, and genres. For residents that cannot vocalize their preferences, we contact a family member to help us create their playlist. Each playlist contains songs from the resident’s youth, but also contains other music that is special to the resident, such as songs that they would have danced to in their wedding or listened to in other important occasions throughout their life. We also use generalized playlists based off time period and genre for newcomers to our program.

Our main goal is to connect personally with each resident and bring smiles, singing, and dancing to break the monotonous nursing home routine. We’ve found that music can help residents recall long-forgotten memories, acting as a passageway back to their youth. We love hearing their stories and tidbits of advice!



The Middle School of the Kennebunks, where we attended middle school, became an International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme (IBMYP) certified school in the early 2000s. The IBMYP curriculum incorporates community involvement into a student’s general education.

Project Playback began as part of the IB Community Service Project, an assignment requiring eighth-graders to form small groups and design and conduct a program to benefit the community. Our common passion for music brought us together. We were played in three different school bands together, including our own jazz trio, and immediately knew our project would be music-based.

Initially, our idea was to visit local nursing homes and play concerts for the residents. We had some experience performing for small groups, and knew a few local nursing homes would gladly allow us to perform. But we decided that in the long run, this plan wouldn’t have a lasting effect on the residents we visited.

Soon enough, inspiration struck. After watching a documentary about how music could improve the lives of those with Alzheimer’s, our plan became centered around music therapy for Alzheimer’s patients. We’ve been visiting residents at the Kennebunk Center for Health and Rehabilitation for four years, holding 1.5 hr music therapy sessions once or twice a week.

In Fall 2017, Project Playback was recognized as part of U.S. Cellular’s Future of Good campaign, where our group received a generous donation of supplies, including iPods, headphones, and CDs. With all of this new equipment, we’ve been working on expanding Project Playback to increase its impact on the community. In January 2018, we began weekly visits to Atria, another local nursing home, in addition to the Kennebunk Center. Our volunteer base has expanded along the way as we mentor other eighth-graders throughout their Community Service Projects.

It’s always been our most important goal to continue Project Playback after we graduate from high school. Our mentoring program will keep Project Playback going even once we head off to college, teaching middle- and high-schoolers leadership skills that will help them give back to the community.