Tuesday, November 30, 2010

How wonderful that you're here!

A photograph from Harleysville, Pennsylvania o...Image via WikipediaWe music therapists are always trying to define what we do. Or, more specifically, help other people understand what it is we do. We write books and articles about it, we blog about it, we put together podcasts- all in an effort to convey to the masses a sense of what makes us go into this profession that seems to defy description!

But, if someone were to have asked me yesterday "what is music therapy and how does it work?", I would probably have said that it's about inviting people to be present to each other, and we use the music to help make that happen. 

Mondays are long days. For me, I go into work a little later and stay a little later. And, I think we can all agree: it's hard for any of us to transition into a Monday, which is, for most folks, the beginning of the work week. And I would say that it requires even more fortitude to get into the Monday spirit of things after a particularly long Thanksgiving weekend, which, of course, marks the beginning of the (dreaded) holiday season.

While staff frantically decorate the cottages and prepare for Open Houses (where everyone's family is invited to come and visit and there's food and music and merriment and so forth), my clients prepare for the annual anxiety of "will my family be coming to spend time with me this year?" 

So, this is a bit of the sense I got when I showed up to work with the group yesterday (Monday) afternoon- "the group" being ten men and me. 

Oh, where to begin? 

Well, let's see. There was a whole lot of messing with chairs (that would be P), switching of seats (that would be R), tossing instruments, trying to pick up instruments and then getting stuck on the floor and needing help to get up (that would be T), repeatedly rearranging and fixing the curtains so the sun wasn't blinding us (um, well, actually, that would be me), coming in, turning off the lights, and then leaving (that would be K), coming in, crying and starving to death and then leaving (a different K who does use some speech), and on and on, all accompanied by a low moaning (courtesy of J), the periodic fist to the head (of B), and the festive crashing of the tambourine (P again).

Can I get a witness? Anyone? Anyone?

Uuuhmmm. Now what?! (And if any music therapist tells you they know exactly what to do when their clients are all freaking out at the same time...just so you know- They. Are. Lying!)

I managed (do not ask me how) to get my thoughts together enough to be aware of the fact that, while the guys were all there, they weren't really There. Nobody was listening to anyone else in the room, we were all kind of...everywhere, but none of us was present to the experience of being in music therapy. 

I pointed this fact out to the guys (who, God bless them, heard me above the drama-filled din), and I asked them, "Gentlemen. What can we do here? How can we use the music? How can we use our thinking, to get ourselves to be here in this room, in music therapy, together? Why don't we just work on that, so that if we do nothing else today, we'll know that we cared about each other enough, that we mattered enough to each other, to notice that we were all here together."

Enter music. 

I moved over next to B, because I didn't want him to be hitting his head, and offered him my hand (he took it). He had been vocalizing while he was hitting himself, in a kind of a hum. So, since I couldn't play guitar with only one hand, I invited the guys to find some kind of way to hum with B to help him settle down.

I started to hum (in B's general key), and it didn't take long at all before the men found ways to join in with their voices and actions. J moved his arm, every few measures, up and then down to the beat. P, in spite of his tambourine prowess (and he really does rock on the tambourine) used his voice- which has more of an "oh" and "ah" quality. Yet another K quietly chimed in on the cabasa he was holding. R stopped moving around and sat, listening, with his eyes closed, breathing deeply. 

B calmed down and kept singing (but stopped hurting himself), so I was able to make use of both of my hands again. I played a very simple progression on the guitar- kind of an Asus4, Cmaj7, to D/F#, B, E (sometimes major and sometimes minor), and I repeated it as we sang and came together.   

It was lovely. 

There was smiling. The moving around and in and out stuff stopped. There was presence. We were looking at and acknowledging each other. 

We managed to be present in the session and we used the music to make it happen. The definition of music therapy on a Monday afternoon. 

And what makes this way of using music so cool is that this particular piece of improvised music  could only have happened on this day and with this group for it to have had any meaning. Taken out of context, it might sound okay, but it will never have the same impact as it did yesterday afternoon as we all sat quietly, after we finished, even after we sang goodbye, nobody wanting to leave quite yet, watching the sun set together.


Rachelle said...

What a beautiful post, Roia! I love your definition of music therapy, too - using music to help people be present to each other. This fits well with the kind of music therapy work I do, too.

Roia said...

Thanks so much, Rachelle. We all have these brief, lucid moments when we realize, "oooh! This is why I'm doing this work." It's nice when we get to share them with each other. Hope all is well with you in baby-land! Yay!

WillyG said...

I wandered over from your November 28, 2010 post. Thanks very much for that!
I just had a "full moon" day at the nursing home, and can relate to your story here. I love moments like the one you described here; it's like balm for my soul on this weary day.

Roia said...

Aww, WillyG, thanks for wandering over and reminding me of this post. It's been a while since I wrote it, and I'll be seeing the guys tomorrow. Remembering this day will make it all the more lovely! Sending you peace and good wishes through the continued full moon. :-)