Monday, September 25, 2017

Heart and Soul

Sometimes I am surprised by their openness to me. It is as if having my guitar in hand is like having a key to their secret garden they let me into. We enter into a very private place together as we share important memories from the soundtrack of their lives. 

I'm thinking of Thelma (not her real name) and how she transformed from a appearing to be very quiet and untrusting to completely open and singing with the most heart felt abandon.  When I saw a picture of Jesus on her wall, I decided to sing, "Amazing Grace" and she said it was her favorite song. She sang loudly and with the conviction of a professional singer even though she insisted after I complimented her, "I can't sing, I just love music!." Her love for music was so apparent. She went from being listless and detached when I entered the room to vibrant and joyous as we sang through some of her favorite songs. 

Next I visited Johnny who was  having a birthday. He seemed a little down (I suppose being in a nursing home is not the most uplifting place to be on one's birthday) and he mentioned he liked "dark" music. I immediately thought of the song, "House of the Rising Sun." As soon as I started to sing this, I could see the song struck a deep chord inside him. He closed his eyes and swayed to the music. He had an expression of being in a  very deep and private place. It led us to a conversation about how life can change for some people by being in the wrong place at the wrong time or hanging out with the wrong crowd. (which is what "House of the Rising Sun" is about). He was so open and vulnerable with me that it was such a privilege to feel he trusted me as he would a close friend, even though I had just met him. 

Last night I had another very uplifting session with Shirley, an elderly woman with dementia. I have known her now for over 4 years and only recently she started opening up to me.  When I started to see songs that she recognized and hummed along with, I made a point to play more from the same genre and era in hopes to connect more with her. It turns out we spent nearly one hour with me playing the guitar and her singing along songs from, "Clementine," "Over the Rainbow," "You Are My Sunshine," and her favorite one that made her laugh was, "Heart and Soul." Many of you would not recognize the lyrics but if you ever took piano lessons, this would be very familiar to you. Shirley loved this song so much we must have sang and played it over a dozen times. This is amazing to me because if I talk to her, she will look down and will not engage. When she is not sitting down, she roams the halls looking down and rarely speaks or engages with anyone. But last night she sang and laughed and her whole demeanor was so light and happy. I cannot stop thinking of her and the fun we had together. I got up this morning and wrote down the melodies to 7 more songs to play for her next time. 

Music is so much more than "entertainment." It is a powerfully healing and connecting force. It is a bridge to bring back joy to those who lives seem devoid of it most of the time. It is my work and I love it. Thank you for reading!  

The picture above is one I took at the park nearby while I stood in a butterfly bush snapping away. It can be hard to photograph a butterfly because they are never still very long. How fitting, I think, as happiness can also be something that does not stay if you try to catch it. 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Here Comes the Sun and I say, "It's alright!"

This past month I have been doing more traveling around Virginia to other assisted living centers. As a result, I have met a lot of new people and seen a lot of very beautiful new sights. Pictured above is a scene I pulled off the road to capture in Bedford county (90 miles outside of Charlottesville). The place I went to was located a few miles off a dirt road way up on a hill. Since I live in the city, it is such a treat for me to experience this beauty.

Yesterday was a special music session for me. I was playing at a nursing home in the skilled nursing area where there are people there for rehab. Many of them are there for just a few weeks or months. This means that I meet people in what could be one of their darkest times. They are away from home for an extended and sometimes unkown period of time and forced to live among strangers.

When I asked the group if there were any who were having a birthday soon to sing to them, a woman I've never seen there before spoke up. She was seated in a wheelchair and both of her legs were bandaged. In other places where the bandages did not cover, there were open wounds and she looked to be in a lot of discomfort. As soon as she began to talk, she started to cry. "It is my birthday next week and it's going to be the worst birthday I've ever had."  She apologized as she continued to cry but I assured her I understood and it was good to cry, that is how we heal.

We started talking then and sharing about music and she said she always loved The Beatles. I got the idea then to play for her their song, "Here Comes the Sun."  I first played it as an instrumental without the lyrics and I could see the woman listening and as she stopped crying. Then when I sang,

"Here comes the sun, little darling
here comes the sun and I say
It's alright...."

Her eyes lit up and she smiled and started to sing along with me.

"Little darling, it's been a long, cold lonely winter
little darling, it seems like years since it's been here
Here comes the sun... "

I could see this song struck a comforting chord with her and this led to a series of other songs that helped to uplift her spirits. We sang, "Stand by Me"

"If the sky you look upon, should crumble and fall
and the mountains should tumble to the sea
I won't cry, I won't cry
no I won't shed a tear
just as long as you stand, stand by me. "

We sang, "My Girl."

"I've got sunshine, on a cloudy day... "

By the time I left, the woman who was crying in despair was laughing and joyful. Music can do that. It can ease our burdens and remind us that there is still beauty and hope and joy. The world is still a beautiful place. It was a gift to me to be with her in her time of need. We've all been there and I was glad that the songs gave us a chance to share some hopeful moments. Peace to you all and thanks for reading!