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“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything” – Plato

Troyd Geist is a folklorist with the North Dakota Council on the Arts (NDCA). Geist started and developed the Art for Life Program. The Art for Life Program seeks to improve the emotional and physical health of elders, many of whom are in elder care facilities, through intensive art and artist interaction. The winter of 2020 saw the advent of COVID-19 and subsequent measures to curtail its impact.  Among the worst affected are our elders in care facilities, many of who still are in quarantine.

To help combat the stress, loneliness and other negative health factors associated with this time, art activities were redesigned to align with physical distancing and other safety factors while still generating meaningful, impactful interaction.

Chuck Suchy is a talented and highly respected folk singer, musician and songwriter from rural Mandan, ND. Chuck called elders on the phone and visited with them about their lives, thoughts and experiences. Using words of inspiration generated from those conversations, four songs were written, performed and recorded to be shared with those elders, their families and others within those organizations and in those communities.

  1. We Worked with Horses (inspired by conversations from Jamestown)
  2. Listen to the Wise (Enderlin)
  3. At the Center, (Bismarck)
  4. How Will I Know Your Heart (Bismarck) [mp3 file below]

Image: Suchy recording at Makoche Studios – Bismarck, ND 2020

musical notesAs a collection and collaborative effort with the elders, these four songs reveal strength, humor and wisdom during these difficult times.  They touch upon the essence of North Dakota folklife while How Will I Know Your Heart also, in beautifully poignant lyrics, expresses the feelings of many associated with required physical distancing during COVID-19; feelings that transcend the pandemic to the essence of what is most important in life – connected-ness and love.

We asked Mr. Geist how he got involved with the North Dakota Council on the Arts’ – Art for Life Program. He responded, “As part of the North Dakota Council on the Arts’ Folk and Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program, traditional artists often did public demonstrations or performances at elder care facilities. After hearing so many stories from traditional artists and elder care personnel about the positive impact of those interactions and art activities on elder residents, a pilot study was initiated by artists Lila Hauge Stoffel, Mary Seim, and myself to assess the impact in an elder care facility. The results were quite encouraging. With that study, the Art for Life Program was supported and funded at the Council with funds from the state. I have been the director of the program since inception. It since has been modeled and highlighted across the country.”

Geist added, “North Dakotan’s and our folk culture – our traditional, everyday lives – are deeply rooted and authentic. We don’t brag, but we have beautiful stories to share. Stories of inspiration that deserve to be told to provide guidance to others and validation to those who lived them.  Both are essential in people’s lives – emotionally, physically and spiritually. We are lucky to have elders willing to share and lucky to have a gifted singer/songwriter, indeed musical poet, in Chuck Suchy to sing their stories with understanding and a shared authenticity.  To help people, not just individuals but the family members of those individuals and their communities, at time most needed, is something we all can be proud of.”

Chuck is available and ready to perform these songs and others in concert.  Please consider booking him. He may be open to holding other songwriting workshops, in person or remotely with other sites sometime this fiscal year.

Supporting Partners:

  • Bismarck Art & Galleries Association and Burleigh County Senior Adults Program in Bismarck, ND
  • Enderlin Municipal Fine Arts Association and Maryhill Manor in Enderlin, ND
  • Jamestown Fine Arts Association and Ave Maria Village/Heritage Centre in Jamestown, ND

The Art for Life Program worked with traditional artists, contemporary artists, folklorists, academics, speech pathologists, nurses, and doctors (some working collaboratively) to develop online activity plans that can be accessed by anyone, especially activity directors at elder care facilities, to conduct art activities contextualized to impact emotional and physical health.  Those plans walk people through each step of various activity plans with such thoughts in mind. Each plan is contextualized with medical studies. Learn more about the program, how it works and access the online activity plans, visit the Art for Life Program Web site.