How the art of music effects well being.
This was a topic suggested by a Coffee with Paula reader. When I read the suggestion I said to myself, “Oh heck yes, this will be an easy, smooth and enjoyable write as music is a huge part of who I am.” But as I sat to write, writer’s block seeped into the room and plopped itself directly onto my fingertips. What in the world, I asked. What, if any other topic, is more close to my heart than music? When I think of my sweet mama, I think of music. When I think of who she taught me to be, I think of music. When I think of church and worshiping my God, I think of music. Even when I think of work I think of music because I sometimes sing to my patients but always sing in the car as I drive between every patient’s house. So how in the world, with the topic of music, could I possibly have writer’s block? I decided to simply focus on the specific moments in my life where music has had a direct effect, where music has changed an attitude or transported to a different time or place. As soon as I coerced my mind to focus in that direction, the thoughts filled my mind to overflowing, just as excessive rain forces a river over its banks.
One workday I cruised the interstate toward a patient that faced end of life and a spouse who struggled to accept the pending loss. I felt melancholy as my thoughts focused on their situation; my desire to make things better for them was strong, but in vain. As a Social Worker, I have to be okay with the knowledge that I can not fix every situation. It’s a pillow I have had to learn to sleep well on…if I wanted rest. The wind rushed through the open window and tossed my salt-and-pepper locks to and fro while the sun beamed down onto my arm. As I steadily headed toward my visit, I cruised from lane to lane in traffic while the Jeff Healey Band “asked the stars above”. The uniquely delicious timbre of Jeff Healey as he sang about his lady’s Angel Eyes, magically transported me from a sad drive, back to a high school night where I was engulfed in an emerald green, poofy-sleeved, sequin-splashed prom dress that swayed with tuxedoed arms wrapped around that I would later marry. The music facilitated memories…the memories created emotion…these emotions created a fond smile…melancholy was removed.
One Sunday I swayed on the alto row, eyes focused on our director who was led to sing Amazing Grace this day during worship. With arms skilled in leadership, the chords on the piano were initiated, voices later cued and the age old story of Amazing Grace was shared. The mixture of melody and harmony created a steady stream of tears down my cheeks as memories flooded my soul of a sweet mama who, years ago, stroked the ivory with finesse in worship playing the same song, her favorite. The music instantly sent me back to the small chapel where I grew up; the faces of loved ones who surrounded the little piano flashed through my mind, faces who have gone on, just as my sweet mama. The music facilitated memories…the memories created emotion…these emotions created tears.
Sitting beside a patient who neared end of life and hadn’t eaten or spoken in weeks, I softly sang old hymns while I held her wrinkled worn hand to provide emotional support and comfort. I knew her story and that she was a dear old saint who had been a choir member for over 50 years at her little country church until frailness stopped her from climbing the few steps into the tiny choir loft. Family members saddened by her lack of response to I love you’s and can we get you anything’s were absolutely elated as her lips slowly began to move to the words of I’ll Fly Away. Very soft, a half-beat behind me, but every word mouthed while worship flowed upward from her soul to a God for which she had lived her whole entire life, and would soon meet face to face. The music facilitated memories…the memories created worship in its rawest, most simple form. Music.
One of the afternoons before or just after my sweet mama’s funeral, a dear Aunt brought cassette tapes that had been created by my grandmother years before, as in possibly 30 years prior to that day. Cassette tapes that held recordings of priceless moments of family gathered around the piano seated in my grandmother’s front living room. My younger, stronger mama stroked the ivories while belting out a splendid alto which mixed so perfectly with my Aunt’s impressive soprano. Aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins gathered around mama, varying voices intermittently louder than the rest within the audio, laughter between songs, laughter in the middle of verses with missed notes or wrong words. I could clearly see the vision created by this replay of family afternoons so many years ago. Precious time shared between family members who had a deep love for music; feelings created by music when shared with those you love. Music created a bond…music was the catalyst that pulled a family together into one accord…music was the glue that held those relaxing family Saturday afternoons together.
Music can transport us to long ago moments whose memories we cherish and wish for again. Music can bring us right to the feet of Jesus in worship. Music can heal a saddened spirit and provide light in the midst of darkness. Music can calm a troubled soul from the throes of anxiety. Music can incite clear thoughts to dementia patients for small periods of time. (If you don’t believe me, you should check out http://www.musicandmemory.org and look for Henry’s story. It will make you cry in amazement!)
Writing music and lyrics is a whole other blog entry; you can share your story of hardship, love, abuse, grief, trouble, excitement, money woes, unrequited love, good times, bad times, sober moments, drunk moments,…need I go on? Music is anything and everything that you need it to be.
Sipping coffee, humming Amazing Grace and hoping you can see how music effects more than well-being; it effects who we are and life in general. Thinking the next song on my play list might be Percy Sledge’s, When a Man Loves a Woman; might be some smoochin’ goin’ on later. Ha! What is music to you? ~paula