FORT KENT, Maine — “Music,” wrote William Congreve in 1697, “has charms to sooth a savage breast, to soften rocks or bend a knotted oak.”

According to some University of Maine at Fort Kent nursing students, it also has the power to stave off a serious mental condition faced by millions of seniors across the country.

“Many elderly people in rural areas suffer from depression,” Margaret Mahoney said. “I thought music would be a good way to alleviate that and provide some social therapy.”

On Saturday about a dozen local musicians gathered in Riverside Park for Music in the Park as part of Fort Kent’s annual Scarecrow Festival and UMFK’s homecoming weekend.

The event grew out of Mahoney’s Community II, UMFK’s nursing class project.

“We had to identify an issue and provide a solution,” she said. “My project was on depression in rural elderly.”

A number of factors contribute to the condition, Mahoney said, including isolation, lack of adequate housing, seasonal changes and natural disasters like last year’s flooding in Fort Kent.

“I thought a little bit of music would help for a few hours,” she said.

Performing in the park Saturday were the musical groups Rapture, Valley Folk, the Acadian Singers and soloist Joshua Hoarde.

Mahoney also managed to convince several of her relatives and friends to take to the stage for the cause.

“Music is something that will get your attention and change your course so you forget about worrying and think about being happy,” Sam Oakes, Fort Kent traditional musician, said. “The notes of music are so sweet [and] money can’t buy it, it’s a gift.”

Mahoney’s mother, Theresa Mahoney, standing nearby and clapping and tapping her toes in time with the beat, agreed.

“It puts every part of your body to work,” Theresa Mahoney said.

Margaret Mahoney had hoped to attract residents of St. John Valley nursing and care facilities to the event, but Saturday’s chilly temperatures and gusting winds kept many from attending.

“But the sun is out and people are having a good time,” the nursing student said, gesturing to several dozen people scattered around the park, some under blankets and wearing heavy winter jackets.

In addition to serving as a fundraising opportunity for the university’s Student Nursing Organization, Music in the Park also provided some funds for a local initiative aimed at establishing a hospice house in Fort Kent.

A newly formed community foundation is hoping to break ground soon on Le Homestead, a six-bed facility providing palliative care for individuals at the end of life who otherwise would have to be in a hospital or nursing facility.

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Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.