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May 24, 2024

Strings of Compassion: Don McNeill’s Impact through Music

“Music has always been the rhythm of my life, guiding me through the highs and lows with its comforting melodies. Growing up in Gymea, New South Wales, our home was a haven of harmonies, where family and friends gathered for soulful sing-alongs led by my parents, Shirl and Mac. Those moments shaped my love for music, setting the stage for a lifelong passion. 

While academia didn’t quite capture my interest, I was always drawn to music. I played around on the piano as a child and pursued vocal training in my teens and twenties. Musical theatre became my playground, where I used to perform alongside local talents. 

In the 1990s, I found myself immersed in the Rhythm Syndicate choir in Canberra, under the guidance of the remarkable teacher Alpha Gregory. It was a transformative experience, delving into the intricate harmonies of jazz, gospel, and popular music. Our Christmas CD, ‘December 25’, remains a cherished highlight, a testament to the bonds forged through music. 

Life’s journey took a turn with the loss of my mother, Shirl, in 2003, and my father, Mac’s, transition into aged care in 2007. It was during visits to my father, surrounded by fellow residents, that I witnessed the profound impact music had on the elderly. 

With a ukulele in hand and a heart full of songs, I, along with my sister Jenny, formed ‘The Merry Macs’, spreading joy through music in aged care facilities across Sutherland Shire. Our performances became a beacon of light, bringing smiles to the faces of residents. Sadly, my father passed away in 2010, but I found solace in continuing my visits to the aged care facility where he spent his last years. There, I continued to share music with other residents that I had built a deeper connection with. Additionally, my wife Sue became an integral part of this journey, accompanying me to various aged care facilities as we extended our reach to bring joy through music to more seniors in need. Her support has been instrumental in our efforts to spread cheer and comfort through our performances. 

 

In 2017, I bid farewell to my IT job and embarked on a new chapter, completing an Aged Care Cert III and volunteering at RSL LifeCare Sir Leslie Morshead Manor in Lyneham. Since then, I’ve been privileged to provide musical therapy to residents along with my wife, witnessing the transformative power of songs first-hand. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, when physical visits were restricted, we turned to technology to stay connected. Zoom sessions became a lifeline, allowing us to continue sharing music and joy with residents, even from a distance. 

One of my favourite memories from volunteering is the emotional connection forged through music. Seeing residents light up as they sing along to familiar tunes, or hearing stories behind beloved songs, reminds me of the profound impact music has on the human spirit.

For anyone considering volunteering, my advice is simple: just do it. Whether it’s sharing your musical talents or simply spending time with residents, every interaction makes a difference. Volunteering is not just about giving back—it’s about finding purpose and fulfilment in serving others. 

As I continue on this journey, I’m grateful for the opportunity to bring a little more joy and harmony into the lives of those I serve. And in the end, isn’t that what it’s all about?” – Don McNeill, RSL LifeCare volunteer

 

 

 

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