The Magic of Music – Pearl, Liz, The Canadian Music Educator Volume Issue: Vol. 57, No. 4 Original Publication Date: 2016

In Honour of Music Therapy Awareness Month:

The Magic of Music

Pearl, Liz, The Canadian Music Educator 2016

“Music can lift us out of depression or move us to tears it is a remedy, a tonic, orange juice for the ear. But for many of my neurological patients, music is even more it can provide access, even when no medication can, to movement, to speech, to life. For them, music is not a luxury, but a necessity.”

Dr. Oliver Sacks

For more than two decades I have been facilitating music / dancewith older adults living with a range of moderate and complex care needs. There is nothing glamorous about working in long term care facilities. Certainly, I don’t earn the outrageous salaries enjoyed by famous rock stars; nor do I wear the extravagant gowns fashioned by divas. No elaborate digital sound and light system, no live orchestra, and definitely no paparazzi.

Typically, I carry a humongous bag jam-packed with assorted CDs (literally hundreds) as well as a gigantic sack stuffed with artistic hand-held musical percussion instruments and miscellaneous other colourful props and knick knacks. The tambourines, maracas, castanets, and bells are a hodgepodge of gifts and souvenirs purchased on previous travels. My favourites are the hand-painted wooden maracas from the vibrant Caribbean islands. When I walk through the entrance door of a Long Term Care facility, the contents of my oversized bags rattle and jingle to the rhythm of my stride. My anticipated arrival is heard throughout the lobby and I am warmly greeted with smiling faces and bright eyes. This is my daily reward.

I offer the gift of music and dance: (and I am not a performance artist) truly magical media for celebration and healing that remain universal, international, multicultural, trans-denominational, and inclusive in so many wonderful ways. The creative and therapeutic possibilities are endless and appreciated by so many  program participants, including young and old with assorted needs. As the enthusiastic ensemble gathers, we forget our nagging aches and pains, leave our exhausting troubles at the door, and drift away with the enchanted melody in the music. Inside each of us is a creative voice yearning to be set free.

Music at times seems almost miraculous. Tired and arthritic joints dance the Twist, stroke survivors swing and sway, aphasiacs sing deeply-retained lyrics, individuals with MS or Parkinson’s tap and clap, and those afflicted with degenerative dementia connect with music in a myriad of expressive ways. Incredibly, music has tremendous power to unlock forgotten memories. Brief moments of lucidity are accessed with meaningful musical memories, awakening the aging body and stimulating the impaired brain. Often, I see baffled or sunken eyes sparkle and dance, while others with rigid joints do the Hokey Pokey. Not infrequently, I hear humming and singing emerge from otherwise silenced voices that rarely speak. The brain is intricate and complex, and often music is an effective pathway inward when all other roads seem blocked or dysfunctional. This is truly amazing. With delight, I observe depressed or delusional people smile and “Whistle a Happy Tune”. Occasionally, I sense aggressive or agitated behavior subdue in response to a soothing melody.

Listen breathe relax-chill-out snooze. Music is a worthy instrument of stress management well-suited to those impacted by chronic anxiety or protracted pain or deep depression. At times, hypnotic New-Age and ambient down-tempo music are offered to enable relaxation, tranquility or guided meditation. Ahhh…nature soundscapes. For most of us, music to soothe the soul is the best part of our day.

With awe, I have witnessed Holocaust survivors cry with sorrow as they recite the ritual Mourner’s Prayer followed by exuberant dancing as they joyfully sing songs of freedom and peace. Grief and loss are soothed by heartfelt familiar prayers, sacred music, and calming melodies, that are transcendental. At these exceptional transformative moments, I am reminded that stirring music is profoundly personal and yet significantly universal. Definitely, where words fail music speaks. We are so beautifully linked together in song and dance; a sublime harmony to behold.

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