Music in contemplative setting, health care, etc.

Posted In: Coffee Break

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    randal on #186557

    Hello – I’m very interested in all aspects of implementing music in “special” populations and settings. I’m ALWAYS interested in hearing about others’ experiences in this milieu. I’m aware that the vast majority of interest on the forum here is the concert harp. Although I’ve been studying and playing music for 45 of my 54 years, I’m not a professional – I do perform music and use music in various ways most weeks. I’d like to share a bit of what I do, and would very much enjoy hearing others – I often use concepts and approaches acquired in sharing with others, so this is not only for my pleasure but edification as well. There are probably some therapists on board as well, so if you have time to chime-in, please do!

    Briefly: I’ve been working professionally in health and human services for most of my adult life – now semi-retired (my wife is a clinician in the field and runs a busy private practice; and we have one child diagnosed on the autism spectrum, with another also with special cognitive and behavioral needs…so you know why I say semi-retired ;-). I started playing music for folks in nursing homes 20 or 30 years ago – long before I started on harp. This has become a ritual for me and what I spend all my free time doing. It’s wonderful to see increasingly broader recognition and understanding of the efficacy of music in human health – we (music) providers have always been aware of its potency, but everywhere I go now, administrators seem to really value it, and with at least some understanding of its function in health care.

    I use a variety of instruments and approaches – every group is different and my approach is very interactive, so every performance is different: repertoire, style, amount of improvisation, etc. I use all the stringed-instruments, as well as percussion, accordians and concertina, flute, and harp is of course wonderful for this setting (I’ve always wanted to play harps – and started playing harp repertoire on hammered dulcimers decades ago until I could finally commit to harp). I bring whatever I can carry, and this typically varies depending on setting, my current interests, etc. But the harp is what I’ll typically start sessions with. I use wire harp, but have a resonant nylon lap harp that I share individually as opportunities present (I’d like to acquire a kantele for this purpose). I get practice playing backward, sideways, and upside-down – as I squat before someone and encourage them to strum; this particular approach is something I likely wouldn’t have thought to do just playing my harp proper, at home! 😉

    So, that’s a long introduction. The responses we elicit are remarkable. I also enjoy playing at the parks and playgrounds while my kids play…families and kids all approach, of course, and it’s another way to share music, and integrate the ritual of music in community.

    balfour-knight on #186563

    Randal, bless you and thank you for what you have done for all these special people over the years. I’m sure you will hear from other harpists on this forum, but I wanted to send a quick reply to let you know that I have been in very similar ministries most of my life, too. I have played harp and piano in nursing homes for years, beginning when my great-grandmother went into one for the last two years of her life when I was a small boy. Last year, two of my pedal harp concerts were for retirement centers here in NC. Looking forward to hearing from more people who do this sort of thing.

    Best wishes,

    patricia-jaeger on #186565

    Randal, It is wonderful to hear of your generosity, sharing your musical gifts with those who truly need spiritual uplift. Probably others will chime in here who do this also. My contribution of forty years’ bringing my volunteer “Serenaders” student chamber ensemble of harps, violin, viola, cello and bass to Children’s Hospital, Alzheimers or nursing home facilities and other senior residences in my area just ended a year ago when I could no longer drive a car. Staff members at some of these places would let me know how some patients who seldom responded would tap their feet, hum along and get involved with catchy tunes like Jingle Bells, The Teddy Bears’ Picnic, and other melodies that I had arranged. I miss the group very much but thankfully I was able to pass the music and equipment along to a fine violinist-teacher nearby whom I had started as a youngster. He hopes to continue the volunteer group.

    Sherj DeSantis on #186566

    I also think the scenarios you present here, of playing for audiences with particular needs, whatever their needs might be, is a wonderful choice to have made in your life.

    I might respectfully disagree with this statement: “I’m aware that the vast majority of interest on the forum here is the concert harp.”

    I haven’t found that to be true and I’ve used this forum for over 10 years I think. I believe it’s actually quite a nice mix. Particularly when you talk about the new therapy programs, many place an emphasis on smaller, more portable instruments for many of the purposes you list above.

    My adventures into harp therapy settings have been limited as I work full time elsewhere, but I prefer to take a full size floor lever harp. I find that people who sit up in chairs can strum and play them better, as they aren’t worried about holding them. (I understand that eliminates many who are confined to bed, not able play them, but those individuals still enjoy listening in general when I play.) My main reason for not taking the smaller harps is I just don’t enjoy the sound of them, but it is a personal preference only.

    Many Blessings as you pursue this work in your life.

    Warmest Regards,

    balfour-knight on #186568

    It is so good to read the recent responses to this forum. One of the most remarkable experiences I had along this line was when I was asked to play the harp at the bedside of a dear friend of ours who had just had a stroke and was in a coma.

    “Miss Shirley” was in her 90’s when this happened, and her two sons and her minister were the only folks allowed in to see her in ICU. One of the sons asked if I could be allowed in with my harp, and received permission. I played for almost 45 minutes, all of Miss Shirley’s favorite songs and hymns that I could remember she liked, and suddenly, all the “bells and whistles” went off, a nurse came running, and Miss Shirley came out of the coma! She lived a very pleasant life for five more years.

    Never underestimate what our music can do in such a situation. It is a remarkable gift!

    My best to all of you,

    randal on #186569

    Thank you Sherj. I’m happy to be corrected – only my impression having read the forum here over the years. I haven’t seen very much posted on this topic (particularly in comparison), although I would love to find more..

    I intend to start working with my large harp, too, some day; undeniably, its resonance is especially effective compared with the small harps. Although, the small harps do provide something special too: I place them in the laps of folks, like a zither (which is why I’m learning to play backward ; ) – this provides an intimacy with the instrument for the client, especially those who are limited to recumbent positions/bed. But the large harp will present limitations – in what else I can bring. What I particularly enjoy about the diversity of instruments and styles is that I can reach some with this, and others with that…some folks love the old jazz tunes on the plectrum banjo, others the fiddle, and most everyone enjoys the accordians..

    And thank you p-j and b-k for your gracious comments, too.

    On the subject of evoking those, in particular, who tend to show unresponsiveness to their normal ADL and environment, this is most rewarding, isn’t it. Of all the types of playing and performing I’ve done over the years, the clinical setting is to me rewarding in ways that others are not. As a volunteer, I can truly give. And having entrée to persons and their families – and when they are so vulnerable – as you mention b-k : to be able to give our gift – and employ our gift of supersensitivity – every day I am honored and privileged.

    Oh, and BTW – I’m selective about where I go: I have a strict policy of visiting only the facilities that are in need – only the small, private ones typically with no dedicated “activities” staff. Most are corporate/for-profit, and I do not play there.

    Sherj DeSantis on #186571

    Hi Randal,
    Just so you understand, my comment isn’t meant as a correction, just a different perspective. I’m not sure if I’m right or wrong, and it’s just my own interpretation.

    And all points about the small harps…so true. Every instrument has it’s own unique appeal, harp, guitar,dulcimer, etc… I bought a 4 pound historical harp a year and a half ago, and it’s stung in gut, so I enjoy the more mellow tone. It’s not particularly small per se: it’s a tall harp. But so easy on the back and arms to transport…..

    Many Blessings!

    balfour-knight on #186576

    I realized that I left out a very important part of “Miss Shirley’s story.” Anyone new to this thread can go back and read what I wrote about her so far.

    Well, when Miss Shirley came out of that coma, with all the alarms, flashing lights and machines going off, her eyes fluttered open, she reached out her hand toward me and the harp, and she exclaimed “Oh, it’s only you!” All of us in her ICU unit laughed with genuine joy at having her back with us.

    All of you have a wonderful day!

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