Music Therapy is Amazing!! and not just because I'm married to a music therapist!

Yes my wife Elizabeth is a music therapist and some might call me biased ( or following strict orders ) by saying that but....Music Therapy really is amazing!

I have heard Elizabeth talk and write about music therapy for a number of years now, trying to explain what it is to people, and writing papers for university, accreditation files and ethical dilemnas for internships, and now proposals for starting her own Music Therpy PEI business ( www.musictherapypei.ca ). 

It's one thing to hear about it and read about it...it's another thing to see it!  I had the pleasure of seeing her practice twice.

I once had the pleasure of observing her practicing Music Therapy during two of her sessions for her 6th month internship at Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care in Toronto.  It was wonderful to see my then fiancee practicing her craft and to see that she really was good at it!  The first group were general incare patients at Baycrest, and many of these elderly suffered from Alzheimer's Disease.

Now, I'm an experienced musician. I have performed in front of groups of up to thousands and never really had nerves.  When I arrived with Elizabeth to the place where she was going to do her session, there were some elderly scattered about in the hallway in their wheelchairs or wandering around - mostly staring blankly or watching TV or totally non-coherent.  But as soon as I got there I froze.  I couldn't really do anything, I stood in a corner until Elizabeth told me where to sit.  It's one thing to perform music, it's another to practice Music Therapy ( which by the way...if anyone thinks that Music Therapy is just anyone playing music for people...it's not... ). 

Elizabeth, to my surprise, started talking to them in a voice I had never heard come out of her.  It wasn't simply louder..it was authoritative, confident, pleasing, and professional.  ''Gracie', how are you today?  It's a beautiful day isn't it? Are you going to join us for music?' 'Come on 'Jack' it's time to go sing!' 

and one by one she gathered them all, wheeling them in their chairs, holding them by the hand, and situated them in a circle at the end of the hallway. 

Still generally groggy and subdued the group waiting patiently for Elizabeth to unpack her music and guitar.  But as soon as she started playing her guitar and singing with her lovely voice....well....they changed. 

Their entire demeanor shifted and they came alive.  Their eyes twinkled as Elizabeth sang the words to 'Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue' 'You are My Sunshine' 'When Irish Eyes Are Smiling' etc, etc....tunes from their day.   And most of these ladies and gentlemen,  who on most days can't remember their past and their families, have trouble with speech, and suffer from the day to day depression of being in 'a home', were singing along to the songs as if they were at a campfire in their teens.  Yes...they remembered the words and they remembered the melodies...they remembered these songs.  and for 45 minutes on that Friday afternoon I think they felt good, and sane, and normal again.  It was beautiful!  I was so proud of Elizabeth and was so happy to see that all she worked towards in University was beginning to come to fruition.

Almost a year later, I find myself going to watch Elizabeth practice Music Therapy again here in Calgary.  She invited me to three different sessions.  Adults with mental disabilities, preschoolers with developmental and behavioural problems, and geriatrics with much the same situation as those above.

I was blown away at how much Elizabeth has grown as a Therapist in one year...and I don't even really know enough about Music Therapy to properly gauge! 

Elizabeth is one of the most welcoming and open people I know and when she's doing her job she's 10 fold what she is normally.  When we walked into the first place she immediately starting talking with that differnent voice and I even felt more calm because of it.  She started off with a Hello Song - a song that says hello to the group and then hello to each individual using their name - after each 'verse' she stops and says 'Hello Cindy!  How are you?  How was your week?  I really like your shirt!' etc, etc and they LOVE it!  They tell her how they're doing, and what exciting thing they did that week, etc and it's an amazing interaction for these people, the kind that typically get ignored on the bus or worse - made fun of or stared at!  Elizabeth talked to them like what they are...people!  Beautiful!

The next group was between 15 - 20 preschoolers from ages 2.5 - 4 with a wide range of developmental and behavioural problems!  Imagine!!

The kids came in WIRED!  Running around like crazy!  Elizabeth sat down on the mat and started to play her Hello song and each child sat down in the circle and sang along!  Instantly they were focused! 

Now I must digress for a moment.  When we first moved to Calgary and Elizabeth started her job - she started making things for work.  Like printing off pictures, and getting things laminated.  Those of you who know her, know that she's the Craft-Queen!  So it was sort of normal for me to see this...but I didn't really know what it was for.  When she bought herself a laminator I thought she was crazy but...now I know why!

During the session with the preschoolers she pulled out a ziplock baggie, spread laminated/magnetic colourful paper butterflies on the mat, pulled out a fishing rod with magnet lure, and said 'Who wants to fish for a song!'

The child that she chose was handed the fishing rod, and they began to carefully lower the little magnetic lure to the mat where they did their best to steady the line in order to pick up a butterfly.  When they sucessfully fished out a song they looked on the back of the butterfly where there was a picture to indicate which song they were to sing!  Brilliant!!

The first kid picked a butterfly with a picture of a girl Skipping on the back!  'Skip to my Lou!!!' he called out and placed the butterfly on the head of her guitar! Amazing!!

So they sang skip to my lou where all of the kids stood up and skipped while singing ( including Elizabeth skipping and playing guitar!! ).  Then they turned the song into an action song where they Stretched their Arms, Wiggled and Waggled, Clapped their hands, stomped their feet, and jumped up and down...again...and so so did Elizabeth, guitar and all...bouncing up and down like she was one of them! Incredible! 

This kids must feel like they accomplish so much with her!  They're able to complete her tasks properly, and follow the rules and all WITH Elizabeth.  She is so wonderful with these kids.  They weren't all 'angels' I must say...there was one little one who was completely facinated with her guitar...I mean facinated!!  And through the entire session the child did everything in their power to get near her guitar so they could smack it!  Yes smack it!  They LOVED the sound it made when it was hit with their hand!  It gave them much joy!  What would most of you do if this happened?!?! I mean the kid was REALLY hitting it!  Of course you'd be nice at first, but the 20th time you'd be getting a little frustrated right?  Not Elizabeth...his reason for smacking the guitar was not out of disrespect...like I said he was Fasicnated by the sound it made when he hit it...or how if he put his hands on the strings it would stop making the music that Elizabeth was creating..and Elizabeth simply smiled the biggest smile she could at him and in the most pleasant way said 'Hi 'Steve' what are you doing? Are you playing along too?'  Or she would just keeping singing away without the aid of the guitar because the child was covering her strings.  It didn't matter to her at all!  Awesome! 

Later I went with her to a nursing home.  It was much like my first experience with Elizabeth's music therapy - two dozen or so elderly in a room/hallway in their chairs and wheelchairs lookoing generally discomforted - then along comes Elizabeth with her bright smile, her welcoming eyes, and her guitar and changed everything - there was one lady who cried during certain songs - what memory did that song strike with her?  Or was it simply the beautiful sound of Elizabeth's voice and guitar...a pleasant change from the typical...there was another lady who smiled the entire time..her eyes followed Elizabeth as she roamed from person to person singing TO them...smiling for them...asking them how their day is going...and making them feel normal again...

it was a really beautiful experience...one which I hope you yourself get to experience at some point. 

If you're interested at all in Music Therapy check out a few sites:

www.musictherapy.ca
www.musictherapy.org

and of course...

www.musictherapypei.ca

Deryl

 

 

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