Professor says anyone can make a joyful noise

Contact: Maridith Geuder

Bill Hood's career is teaching the basics of music to Mississippi State University education majors. His hobby is teaching music to those sometimes considered too old to participate.

Hood, Mississippi's 1996 Music Educator of the Year, devotes his free time and talents to groups of aspiring musicians who fall between the ages of 65 and 90. Though that's not typically the age at which musicians take to the stage, Hood works on the premise that anyone can benefit from the camaraderie and the self-expression that music offers.

"Anyone can make a joyful noise," he often says.

Hood, who also directs the university's Music Methods Center, finds surprising similarities between his young and his old students.

"Whatever the age, everyone has a need for self-expression," he said. "It's always gratifying and satisfying to be able to make music; we see that with our Mississippi State students who may have no musical background."

He also sees it in the "Joyful Noisemakers," a group of about 30 older Oktibbeha County citizens. Sponsored by the Starkville First Baptist Church, the group sings and plays popular old standards such as "You Are My Sunshine" and "When the Saints Go Marching In."

In all, the group has a repertoire of about 100 songs. Members accompany themselves on a variety of instruments, including, among others, the maracas, tambourines, African gourd, drums, autoharp, and saxophone.

"The Joyful Noisemakers" recently performed at the North Mississippi Senior Citizens Festival in Grenada. According to Hood, audiences sometimes don't tend to expect much from a group whose average age is approaching 80--but those who listen usually are pleasantly surprised.

"We exceed expectations," he added, with a laugh.

"Everyone can do something," he said. "We've had someone play a jug with a wooden spoon. Another lady played the spoons. Everyone can play on the beat and be involved."

Hood, who also works with the elderly at a local nursing home, said the very old can experience a number of benefits from music.

"We observe the excitement and alertness when someone is engaged in music," he said. "Elderly people who may have lost some ability to communicate can almost always respond to music."

There also are the physical advantages that playing even a simple instrument provides, since music can keep hands limber and help with coordination.

"We've found that, whatever the limitations, those who participate have a feeling of contributing," he said. "They feel involved, and they enjoy sharing with others."

Every community can benefit from musical programs for the elderly, Hood said. For those interested in beginning a program similar to Starkville First Baptist, he suggests taking advantage of existing community structures.

"Whatever the group, whether it's a church or a civic club, there's an existing structure with which to start.

"Music is universal," Hood said. "It's something everyone can enjoy."