One of the longstanding highlights of my week as a music therapist is a small group I facilitate on Thursdays just before lunch. I’ve worked with the same residents for years and established strong bonds with the caretakers as well as the residents. Although the size of the group fluctuates, there are typically 2-4 residents with varying diagnoses. Regardless of the week, there are two wonderful ladies who are the foundation of this group. We shall call them M. & S. to respect their privacy. On a surface level, these two women are strikingly different; from their physical size to the pitch of their voice. S. appears to have extremely sensitive hearing while I almost have to yell at M. and hope she figured the rest out from reading my lips. Because M. remains bedbound almost all of the time, they rarely see one another. Yet their bond continues to grow within our sessions in a way that makes me feel as if I’m the humble recipient of an opportunity to weave the lives of two elderly women into a tangible braid of love and wisdom.
Lately, M. has been experiencing more and more pain. She tries to hide it and puts up a tough front, but there are times when she invites us to join her in her room so that she can stay in bed rather than move to the living room. Meanwhile, S. stumbles in and out of lucidity as she does her best to keep up with the singing, movement and instrument play. As they watch one another from across the circle, the two seem to understand the struggles and pain hidden behind the facade.
While working with them today, I was acutely aware of M.’s labored breathing and quiet grunts of pain she tried to mask with the crescendo of our songs. The intensity of her pain was further magnified when she declined the opportunity to play the buffalo drum – one of her favorite parts of hour together. But I accepted with a nod of acknowledgment and worked with S. on the drum while M. sang along. Shortly thereafter, M. watched as S. struggled to stay awake and needed more and more reinforcement from me in order to make it through even some of her favorite songs. So when I pulled the tamborines out and M. reached out her arm as much as her pain-racked body would allow and said, “Maybe I should play one so S. can see how to do it,” I had to fight back tears of respect, gratitude and humility. These two women are a team and their sense of community is strong.
Towards the end of our hour together, another resident was wheeled in and greeted with enthusiasm that reminded me of an episode of Cheers. And, much to my surprise, a fourth resident appeared at the door singing along to our final songs. Apparently she began singing along in the bathroom, so the caretaker was inspired to add her to the group despite the fact that she almost always declines the offer to join and discreetly wrinkles her nose at the thought. So there we were, three residents in wheelchairs, one in bed and one music therapist with instruments strewn about and guitar in hand, bonding and entraining over the ridiculously challenging melody of The Star Spangled Banner in a small bedroom in Southwest Portland. One small community of love and support within a larger community that I am proud to call home.
And Portland is the lucky recipient of another community oriented man who is striving to bring attention to the manner in which the body responds to rhythm and vibration. Mickey Hart is playing at the Roseland Theatre tonight. Yes, that would be the incredible percussionist who played with Grateful Dead. He is also an incredibly strong advocate of music therapy. In fact, his latest work with Dr. Adam Gazzaley, is revolutionary. Mickey himself says, “I’ve been working in my field for many years and so has Adam, it’s a handshake between science and art. Life is all about rhythm, and the brain is Rhythm Central.”
Tonight Mickey will perform a piece featuring the sounds of his own brain while wearing an EEG cap so we can visualize his brain activity in real time. Check this video out to get a better idea of what we’re talking about. Then come to the show! And say hi to me at my music therapy booth. Join us in celebrating the unity of music and science with the community. Thank you for the opportunity to share more about music therapy at your show, Mickey!