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South Jordan Journal

The halls of Sagewood are alive with music

Jan 03, 2022 03:58PM ● By Rachel Aubrey

Lance Merrell was hired in June 2020 to be the music specialist at Sagewood after performing in the weekly concert series (Photo courtesy of Lance Merrell).

Music has the power to influence us in a variety of ways. It can ignite some of our fondest memories and has the power to heal our deepest wounds. Approximately 230 residents of Sagewood in Daybreak started to experience that power and influence in a very real way. Despite the stringent rules and protocols brought on by Covid in the early part of 2020, the musical influence began to permeate the walls thanks to a little collaboration from the team at Sagewood.

From socially distanced performances in the courtyard, to more recent group sessions, music has brought an enhanced quality of life and vitality thanks to wellness director Jonathan Tate and executive director Wade Vest. Both Tate and Vest recognized that the residents needed an outlet, especially during Covid, to be entertained and to engage. 

The senior staff decided to start a weekly concert series in their central courtyard, where residents could listen to music from their windows, thus ensuring everyone could be distant and safe. Local performers and artists were contacted and the weekly concert series began.

“It was so fun to see the impact music had on all of us,” Vest said. “Not just the residents but the staff as well.”

Initially hired to perform in the weekly concert series, Lance Merrell, a music major at Utah Valley University, was approached by Tate about a staff position to oversee music activities. Merrell applied, interviewed and was hired in June 2020 to be the music specialist at Sagewood, a position that the staff felt was important to have moving forward.

Merrell’s position is to create and facilitate musical activities. His focus is to help residents with memory and cognition through music.

“As human beings we are prone to make music,” Merrell said. “Music is able to access different parts of us.”

A longtime student of music, Merrell has been able to provide creative ways to reach the residents with activities such as music jeopardy, name that tune, sing-a-longs, and the most recent addition of ukulele classes. At the beginning of 2021, residents began to be able to gather again and participate in a once-a-week community group session with the aforementioned activities facilitated by Merrell. In addition to group sessions, he also spends time with individuals doing one-on-one sessions.

Helen Smart, who played piano in the Conference Center and the Joseph Smith Memorial building for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for 15 years has been unable to play since May.

“I would play the day after Thanksgiving when they turned the lights on at Temple Square,” Smart said.

A former homeowner in Daybreak, Smart moved into Sagewood in July after losing total feeling in her left arm. Merrell and Smart work together once a week, doing exercises to help strengthen her arm and finger movement.

“Lance is really good,” Smart said. “He’s very down to earth and he wants to meet the needs of the individual.”

Smart has been able to regain some feeling in her fingers and said she can now play a few hymns. She is working her way back to the level at which she once played. Both she and Merrell are optimistic she can achieve the level she once was at.

As much as Merrell wants to make a difference for the residents, he admitted that his elaborate one-on-one sessions could quite quickly become something as simple as singing a song together. Not only does Sagewood offer independent and assisted living, there is also a memory care component for residents that have to battle with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Merrell has learned to tailor his approach based on what the resident may need on any given day and said that it can be a challenge at times. 

“As powerful as music is, it’s not a cure to a disease,” Merrell said. “I go in with a plan knowing that I have to be open and adaptable.”

The future will continue to be musical for residents, some of which have requested that Merrell help them to form a Sagewood choir. Residents also enjoyed singing festive songs during the most recent holiday season. Families are welcome and encouraged to join residents on Tuesday nights for the weekly music social.

“This is a living, breathing [music] program,” Merrell said. 

To learn more about Sagewood visit