Spirit of Oktibbeha: High school students spread joy to elderly

Starkville native Reese Dunne, 17, brought together students to sing and play instruments for residents in retirement communities and assisted care facilities in Starkville. The group is named Nonnie's Notes after his grandmother who lives in an assisted care facility in Maryland. (Submitted photo)
Staff Writer

A group of students from Starkville High School have decided to spread their joy for music by performing for residents of retirement communities.

Nonnie's Notes is a group that was founded by siblings Reese Dunne, 17, and Marika Dunne, 19, two Starkville natives who know what it is like to have an aging loved one. When they were young, they would travel to Maryland to see their grandmother Gloria "Nonnie" Dunne, 76, who is living in an assisted living facility. There, they would perform for Nonnie and her neighbors.

"Nonnie is in the late stages of Alzheimer's," Reese Dunne said. "She doesn't remember many things, but she loves music."

After seeing how music cheered up his grandmother and her neighbors in Maryland, Reese Dunne brought Nonnie's Notes to Starkville in May.

Dunne organized a group of students from the theater and the chorus classes at SHS. They held their first performance on May 26 at the Claiborne at Adelaide. The students sang and played instruments for the residents.

Since May, Nonnie's Notes has made three additional performances in Starkville, two of them at the Claiborne at Adelaide and one at Montgomery Gardens.

"Our group ranges between four to eight members," Dunne said. "Our next performance will be 4 p.m. at the Claiborne on Monday."

Dunne created a website for the group, and said retirement homes in the community are welcome to contact him and schedule a date for a performance.

Nonnie's Notes uses light-hearted music to connect with the residents they visit, from playing classical and instrumental music to singing gospel hymns. Their performances have featured singing, piano, violin and clarinet.

"I'm trying to make it bigger," Dunne said. "We have incredibly talented people in Starkville. I think that's another thing that inspired me. I'm in the theater and choir programs, myself, and the talent there is unreal."

Dunne enjoys bringing smiles to the faces of the residents, but he also enjoys performing for them. He said sometimes they sing along with the music, and they always offer reassurances, even if he misses a note.