Singing for the Elderly

For as long as I've been in the Sai family, singing at nursing homes has been a part of Sai center service. Sathya Sai Baba states, “Music as a vehicle of peace is universally popular; men, women and children of all lands are amenable to its subtle influence. Even animals and plants are susceptible to its subtle influence.”(1) By divine grace, I have been leading Sai music groups for years, not only because I sing, perform, and play the guitar, but also because I have been blessed with a large repertoire of American songs of other eras stored in my brain – thanks to my parents, grandparents, and the effusive and expressive cultural milieu in which I was raised. 

In early 2010, we put together a group to sing monthly at the Apple Rehab center in Shelton, Connecticut. We were a cultural mix of “western” and Indian devotees, many of who were unfamiliar with the songs of the generation of the senior population we were interested in serving. That meant we had to put in a lot of time and effort in practice sessions just to learn the songs. Fortunately, Bob Becker, our pianist, has a recording studio and made recorded demos of our selections to help move our project along.

The power of music

Each of the four nursing homes I have visited over the past 13 years has had a different feel. In the past, we have sung to very ill residents, many of whom are on multiple medications that dull their responsiveness. Even in such sad circumstances, the power of music to cut through to the real person inside always touches and surprises me. 

As Sathya Sai Baba reminds us, “It is music that melts human heart and literally moves everyone.”(2)I have seen people come out of a stupor to sing a verse or two of a song from their childhood or young adult years. It truly warms my heart to see people mouthing the words – even those who cannot really make sounds or otherwise appear barely able to move, open their eyes, or lift their heads. Truly, these songs from their happier days reach inside them in a way other stimuli could not.

Other residences, like the Apple Rehab Center, have somewhat younger or healthier populations who are more able to engage in interaction. At the Apple Rehab, many of the residents can fully participate and sing along. It's always fun to have them call out “stump the band” requests – and a lot of times we are stumped!

To realise the One, the Universal Absolute, which personalises itself into God and Creation, no discipline is more valuable and more effective than selfless service.

Sathya Sai Baba, 11 Oct 1972

Lessons learned

The most important thing I’ve learned about singing at the homes is that connection counts and performance doesn’t – our most enjoyable and fun days happen when we are just one big family sitting in the “living room” singing together. These are sing-alongs, and if we only know a verse or two, it doesn’t matter.

Remembering the words of our beloved Sathya Sai Baba, we realize that “the singing must be full of feeling. . . . The Lord is moved only by the feeling that is expressed, not by musical talent as such. It does not matter if the melody is not perfect or the rhythm is not perfect. Those appeals only at the worldly level. The Lord loves only the sincerity of feeling.”(3)

Hence, in our music ministry, perfection is the last thing on our list. Instead, we have focused on building meaningful connections with the people with whom we sing.

I have seen the same thing happen in the other places, including the service at the St. Joseph’s home during the annual Sai-lent Retreat and the annual Christmas sing-a-long, where the retired nuns look forward to our visits. In fact, they have a CD we recorded with the Sai Center children in 2005, and they sing along with our Sai songs, such as “There is Only One Caste (the Caste of Humanity)”! What a special gift music provides, to spread the divine message of love and unity across all faiths!

A second most important lesson: people respond to the music they know and remember! The songs may not be “spiritual” in content: the lyrics may be silly, or the songs may be about cowboys, or young love, or they are Broadway tunes, or Sinatra songs – you name it. Our purpose is to bring joy to the seniors, and we sing what they would like to hear, not what we think we would like them to hear. Their joy comes first!

With our senior friends at the Apple Rehab, we know what they want – the old and familiar – although they love it when our guest star soprano Mary sings “Ave Maria,” or when we sing “Amazing Grace.” Yet, through the songs of their generation, we are still able to convey divine loving energy and unity, because the delivery of each song is suffused with love for our seniors, and we see that same love that binds us all as One reflected in their eyes.

As our beloved Sai Baba states, “When those devoted to God sing in groups, a sense of unity develops. By all people singing in unison and all hands clapping together, all hearts become one.(4)

A big hug to all the members who come to spread love, joy, and the essence of our beloved Sai Baba, with our elder brothers and sisters at the Apple Rehab center.

—Rev. Nettie M. Spiwack

Sathya Sai Baba Center of Silvermine, CT

In the Sai organisation, there is no room for distinctions of race, religion, caste, class, or community. All should regard themselves as the children of one God. When they are united by this sense of divine kinship, they will act with Love toward all.

Sathya Sai Baba, 18 Nov 1984

A Precious Gift

When I was first approached to sing and play the piano in an elders’ home as part of a service project, my first reaction was, “Where will I find the time?” Not only would we have to perform once a month at the home, we would also have to meet for practice sessions and rehearsals. I did not think I could take on one more project.

Our group’s first rehearsal reunited me with my Sai family and I was reminded of my blessings. I did very much look forward to our first performance, and I hoped that we would please our audience. During our singing at the home for the elderly, I was a performer; I was on stage. But after we completed our songs and I sat close to our dear elderly brothers and sisters, I became surrounded by gratitude, tenderness, and love. Someone held my hand, someone touched my arm, and all warmed my heart. I could not wait for our next session with them. Suddenly, everything else in my life was a chore, and my time with them became the most precious gift to me.

From the experience of this service, I have learned to stop more often, look into the eyes of others, and say, without words, “Hello there; I love you.”

 —Bob Becker

Sathya Sai Baba Center of Silvermine, CT


While both authors are affiliated with the Sathya Sai Center of Silvermine CT, the article reports on a service project that was undertaken jointly by devotees of the Sathya Sai Centers of Shelton, Silvermine, and Norwalk in Connecticut.


(1) Sathya Sai Baba, 11 July 1957,

(2)Sathya Sai Baba, 28 July 1999,

(3) Sathya Sai Baba, April 1984,

(4)Sathya Sai Baba, April 1984,