Tulsa Opera Wins Prestigious National Grant
For Program That Serves People in Area Memory-Care Communities

In Its Launch Year, Tulsa Opera’s “Songs by Heart” Is Among 8 U.S. Opera CompaniesTo Earn a Civic Practices Grant From OPERA America

Support From Donors, Grants Is Key to Tulsa Opera’s Capacity to Expand This Important ProgramThat Therapeutically Engages People With Age-Related Memory Issues in Interactive Singing

Tulsa Opera’s Specially Trained Musicians Lead Participants in Singing Familiar TunesLike “Oklahoma!” “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and “You Are My Sunshine”

TULSA, OKLAHOMA (March 3, 2023) – Tulsa Opera is among eight opera companies to win a Civic Practices Grant in OPERA America’s annual program. It is Tulsa Opera’s Songs by Heart – an interactive, therapeutic program that connects people with memory loss to language and the joy of music – that earned grant-award designation from OPERA America’s panel of judges.

Tulsa Opera and each of the other award-winning companies will receive an $18,000 grant, funded by the New York-based OPERA America’s Opera Fund.

Tulsa Opera in December last year launched the nationally renowned Songs by Heart program with engagements in area memory-care communities. To date, Tulsa Opera has brought the program to a dozen memory-care communities, with participation by more than 725 residents, family members and staff.

As part of the program it delivers to area memory-care communities, Tulsa Opera provides a specially trained professional-level singer with live piano accompaniment to engage participants in group singing, clapping, dancing and conversation using familiar tunes like Oklahoma!Take Me Out to the Ballgame and You Are My Sunshine.

“The OPERA America grant is an important validation for Tulsa Opera’s Songs by Heart program,” says Amanda Viles, Tulsa Opera’s chief development officer. “From the outset, we began seeking grants and donations to subsidize our efforts to reach as many people in Tulsa-area memory-care communities as possible with this innovative, invigorating program. We are working to expand our support for this program far beyond the traditional arts benefactors to include a broad base of the Tulsa community who values the benefits Songs by Heart brings to people with memory loss.”

Tulsa Opera partnered with the Songs by Heart Foundation to launch the program in the Tulsa area. Since its beginning in the Chicago area in 2015. Songs by Heart has grown to be part of the therapeutic programming in more than 50 memory-care communities across the nation. Songs by Heart is designed to be offered to participants as regular, repeated programming in memory-care communities.

“We are honored and excited for Tulsa Opera’s Songs by Heart outreach program to receive this prestigious award from OPERA America within just a few months after when we debuted it to enthusiastic response in our pilot program,” says Ken McConnell, Tulsa Opera general director and chief executive officer.

“This grant will help us expand and sustain this important program that can improve the quality of life for members of Tulsa-area communities who struggle with memory issues,” McConnell said. “Given the prevalence of Alzheimer’s and dementia and the growing senior population, this program is needed now more than ever.”

In Songs by Heart, the singer-leader uses therapeutic techniques such as mirroring, verbal and gestural prompting, making direct eye contact, and holding hands with participants throughout the program.

Program benefits to participants can include reduced stress, improved self-confidence and social interaction.

Music-evoked emotions and memories are often preserved in Alzheimer’s patients, and listening to familiar songs can temporarily reduce anxiety, enhance self-consciousness and identity, and improve cognitive performance in verbal and autobiographical memory.

“Studies of Alzheimer’s and dementia patients show that music can impact moods, manage stress, stimulate positive social interactions and more,” says Dani Keil, Tulsa Opera director of outreach. “During the sessions, we see that embodied rhythm can aid with motor coordination. The residents express themselves through the music and emotions and memories bubble to the surface. This program is so much more than a sing-along.”

OPERA America says that its Civic Practice Grants are designed to support opera companies’ effort to address civic priorities in their communities more fully; develop robust, reciprocal relationships with other arts and non-arts organizations; and deliver greater public value through authentic, mutually beneficial partnerships.

“To serve their communities more fully, opera companies must embrace partnerships and work beyond the traditional reach of their public programs,” says Marc A. Scorca, president/CEO of OPERA America. “Civic Practice Grants provide resources to companies ready to engage with this essential work.”

The national organization defines civic practice as drawing “on opera’s authentic creative assets to address public priorities and community needs. Effective implementation is predicated on an ongoing process of learning, partnership and leading change. Opera leaders must think flexibly about the art form’s strengths and develop a nuanced understanding of and deep respect for their local histories and identities. This work requires an examination of what it means for opera companies to be engaged cultural citizens in their communities as the basis for building long-term trust and appreciation for companies and the art form.”

Along with Tulsa Opera, other recipients of 2023 OPERA America Civic Practice Grants are: Kentucky Opera, Los Angeles Opera, Opera Baltimore, Opera Birmingham, Opera on Tap (Brooklyn, NY), Pittsburgh Opera, and The Santa Fe Opera.

The Opera Fund provides financial and technical support to U.S. Professional Company Members of OPERA America and their partners as part of a broader effort to enhance the quality, quantity and enjoyment of opera and music theater.

About Tulsa Opera’s Songs by Heart Program

Tulsa Opera’s Songs by Heart program is designed as 45-minute sessions ranging from once a week up to five days per week. Song selections are tailored to communities, with variety that spans musical theater, patriotic and folk tunes as well as jazz standards. Personnel include a professional-level singer and pianist.

Memory-care communities interested in scheduling sessions or getting additional information about Songs by Heart in the Tulsa area may contact Dani Keil at dkeil@tulsaopera.com.

Tulsa Opera accepts monetary donations to support its Songs by Heart program via its website at Songs by Heart – Tulsa Opera.