My friend Kati celebrated her 87th birthday last Tuesday at a rehab facility, after a week-long hospital stay. It’s been a rough time for her, and I was looking to do something special for her birthday. I suddenly remembered a colleague of mine, a flutist, telling me about a training program she’s been involved in, in therapeutic music.
Music used to facilitate healing is an aspect of many cultures and traditions. Since the 70’s, therapeutic music, typically played at the bedside, has become a growing phenomenon embraced by many U.S. hospitals, hospices, skilled nursing facilities, birthing centers, and more. It offers a part-time or full-time path for music students and professional musicians to bring peace and comfort through music.
Therapeutic music is not a performance. Instead, it’s the use of music to facilitate a healing environment. It’s the sound itself, as well as the intention of the musician, that’s healing.
There’s some good research demonstrating the value of music with elderly folks who are in pain and/or suffering from physical and mental challenges.
Last Tuesday, I witnessed this when Peggy, the flutist, came to the rehab facility to bring therapeutic music to Kati on her birthday. Kati closed her eyes through most of the 15 minutes Peggy played. Her tears flowed as she basked in the Bach aria, “Bist du bei mir.” At one point, Kati switched things up by starting to sing a 40’s jazz tune. The flutist sang with her and then played the piece as well as a couple of other popular tunes of a bygone era. The music ended with an upbeat version of “Happy Birthday.”
I’m still marveling over how the experience of therapeutic music on her birthday continues to draw Kati out of her anxiety and pain. It brings her back in touch with something so much bigger. It helps her to breathe and to remember to take one moment at a time.
I’ve been learning more about the program Peggy has been part of: Music for Healing & Transition Program, Inc (MHTP). It trains musicians, music students, and amateur musicians 18 years or older, to work with live therapeutic music. To participate, one must be a proficient instrumental or vocal musician who can improvise and who understands music theory. They will then be trained “to serve the critically, chronically, and temporarily ill, elderly, children, birthing mothers, the dying, and any others who may benefit.”
– Barbra Weidlein