Music is powerful. It can bring back memories, create sensory feelings and alter moods, but for those suffering with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, music can help stimulate several parts of their brains, including visual, executive and cerebellar networks.
It is because of this musical connection that led Montefiore — an assisted living, hospice, health care services and memory care facility located in Beachwood and Bainbridge Township — to establish a singing contest to benefit their patients through both raised funds but also through musical performances.
The contest, Shining Star CLE, is in its third year of high school participants competing for a chance to win college scholarships and money for their high school. Following three auditions first starting in April, 10 participants and two alternates will take to the stage at 7 p.m. Sept. 22 at the Ohio Theatre at Playhouse Square in front of four judges and an audience.
“Shining Star CLE is twofold,” said Debbie Rothschild, director of the Montefiore Foundation. “One, it’s clearly a fundraising event for Montefiore, our memory care programs both in our buildings as well as throughout the community. Two, we see it as a really strong outreach event. It gives us an opportunity to get the word out across this eight-county area of the good health care programs that we provide and the service that we share with the community.”
High school students going to school or home-schooled in Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Lorain, Medina, Portage or Summit counties had the opportunity to submit a three-minute maximum audition tape to the competition’s website between April 1 to July 1, 2019. Students use the same song throughout the competition – from the initial audition to the finals.
Six judges combed through the about 200 submitted video applications and moved 130 students on to the face-to-face rounds on Aug. 2 and Aug. 4 at Montefiore. From those students, three judges cut that number down to 25 for the semifinals on Aug. 18 and then 10 contestants and two alternates for the final performance.
The final performance will be judged by Jim Brickman, an award-winning songwriter and pianist born in Shaker Heights; Rashad V. Chambers, the founder and president of Esquire Entertainment; Trisha O’Brien, a contemporary jazz singer from Cleveland; and Carl Topilow, founder and music director of the Cleveland Pops Orchestra. Gina M. Vernaci, president and CEO of Playhouse Square, was another judge but had to withdraw due to a work conflict. The finals performance and competition is hosted by Monica Robins, a WKYC reporter and senior health correspondent, and artistically directed by Jordan Cooper, a Northeast Ohio and East Coast director, conductor, music director and pianist.
The final performance will feature a multi-piece live band to accompany the top 10 finalists as they take part in group and individual performances. The top four selected by the judges will perform short pieces of the songs they have already presented, and the places among that final four will be decided upon by the judges and the audience which will receive ballots in their playbill. The first-place winner will receive a $10,000 scholarship, the opportunity to perform with the Cleveland Pops Orchestra at Severance Hall in Cleveland and $2,500 to their high school’s music department. Second place is a $5,000 college scholarship, third place gets a $2,500 college scholarship and fourth place earns a $1,000 college scholarship.
“We want to give these kids an opportunity that they probably have never had before and will help them step up their game in terms of level of performance,” Rothschild said. “We give them professional coaching and they rehearse it at Playhouse Square the whole week before the event. It’s an exposure and an opportunity that’s at a very high level, under the lights, with the band behind them and all of the professional staging. It’s really a very special experience for them. We wanted to do something that sort of gives back after they’ve given us such a beautiful performance and create an incentive for people to take it very seriously and pursue their dreams.”
Not only do the contestants perform for the audience, but those who reached the semifinals at Montefiore took part in workshops and sang for residents in the dining rooms. Montefiore also asks those students back throughout the year to do different programs and entertain the residents, Rothschild said.
“Music is a critical piece for our residents,” Rothschild said. “What research has shown is that people’s memory as it relates to music is like the last to go, so bringing music into our building just brings tremendous joy to our residents. (Shining Star CLE) relates beautifully to the memory care that we provide for those struggling with those issues.”