Saturday, April 28, 2018

"I needed you."

When I tell people I work at the hospital (U.VA), I am often asked, "Isn't that a depressing place to be?" and the answer is No! It is not depressing at all. It is because it is such an honor to be with people during what could be the hardest times in their lives. Because of this, there is no time to waste with superficial conversations. We get right to the core of our being. When I walk into their room, I am a stranger. But when I get out my guitar and start to play music, all barriers between us are lifted. Here is a story from yesterday:

I was playing in the medical ICU and going from room to room to see what patients might benefit from soothing instrumental guitar music. Sometimes patients say no because they have a visitor or maybe they are asleep or for some reason I can't play for them.

As I was passing by a room, a female patient waved to me and smiled and asked me to come in her room. I went to her and she was in the middle of eating her lunch. I told her some about what I do and said if she'd like to listen to music, she can even fall asleep if she wants to- there is nothing she needs to do.

I told her how music can help bring down the heart rate and relax a patient and we talked about how being in pain and being ill can really be a stressful situation and one that causes a lot of anxiety and worry. We talked about how music can ease our worried mind and remind us there is hope and beauty and love in the world, that all will be ok.

Eventually, our conversation waned and the woman said, "I'll let you choose whatever piece of music you think is best for my situation." I told her, "I will play you my favorite piece I like to play right now. It is a classical piece called, "Pachelbel Canon."

When I began to play, she pushed her food tray out of the way and easesd back in her bed and closed her eyes. As I played,  she smiled and a serene expression came over her face. She appeared to be very happy and peaceful as she listened. In all my 14 years of playing for patients, I have to say that she was one of the most appreciative of any patient I had ever played for. She listened as if savoring every nuance and note I played.  I saw her heart rate come down.

When I finished, she said, "Thank you so much!! I feel like now I am so relaxed I can take a nap. " I encouraged her to do that (I was getting ready to go home anyway after my session with her.).  She said, "I am so happy you came to see me today. " Then I said that I almost didn't come to the hospital because it was supposed to be my day off. She said, "You needed to be here because I needed you. " I said I needed her too, that meeting her was good for me too and we helped each other. Then she opened her arms and I leaned over to give her a hug. What an honor to have been the recipient of such deep appreciation. Today I am going back. Will see who I meet today!

Thanks for coming by!

Friday, April 20, 2018

VSA 10th Annual Concert

One of my favorite events of the year is the VSA Annual Concert hosted by VSA Charlottesville/Albemarle (therapeutic parks & recreation for people with special needs) .   I love the opportunity it gives me to try out a new musical idea on a very receptive audience.

This year I played my arrangement of a poem by George Eliot I set to music, "Spring Come Hither."
I accidentally found a bunch of her poetry online and I was really drawn in by her musings on nature and life.  She is a female writer from the Victorian Era whose real name was Mary Anne Evans. In those days, it was common for women to change their names to a man's name in order to have more opportunity to be published. She was most known for her novel, "Middlemarch, published in 1871.

Here are the words to her poem:

Spring comes hither
Buds the rose . . .
Roses wither
Sweet spring goes . . .
O ja là
O ja là . . .
Would she carry me.
Summer soars
Wide-wing'd day . . .
White light pours
Flies away . . .
O ja là
O ja là . . .
Would he carry me.
Soft winds blow
Westward borne . . .
Onward go
Towards the morn
O ja là
O ja là . . .
Would they carry me.
Sweet birds sing
O'ver the graves
Then take wing
O'ver the waves
O ja là
O ja là . . .
Would they carry me.

For the introduction, I played Pachebel Canon in D. 
I loved hearing all of the other artists as well. It is a time of sharing our love of music and enjoying our community. 

I have set 6 poems of George Eliot's to music and hope to record them some day!

Saturday, April 7, 2018

From regional to universal songs

I grew up in Chicago during the late 60s and 70s. Back then music was more regionally based. Songs played on the radio in Chicago were not played here in Virginia.  If you grew up in NYC, you weren't likely to hear the same songs played on the radio on Mississippi. For this reason, it can be a challenge when I lead sing alongs to a group of elders with varied background. Not only in terms of geographical differences but also ethnic and racial backgrounds can influence what songs resonate or not. However, there are also songs that are universally known and those are great to sing in all groups.

Since I moved to Virginia nearly 30 years ago,  my musical repertoire has expanded a lot and I love the songs that have come to be favorites to sing at local nursing homes. I have learned much from the Southern Gospel repertoire that really go over well. Songs like, "I Saw The Light," "I'll Fly Away," "Sweet By & By," Do Lord."

What I love to see is how much the words and meaning of the songs reflect some of the audience members' life experience. Back when I was just learning to play the guitar, and taking lessons at The Old Town School of Folk Music (in Chicago), I remember that the song, "Will the Circle Be Unbroken, " was a favorite to play in our weekly jam sessions. The words at the time were just lyrics to me but now their meaning resonant with real life experience:

"I was standing by my window, on a cold and cloudy day
when I saw the hearse come rollin' for to carry my mother away.."

I feel those words, the sorrow of losing my mother and I know everyone feels this way. The song goes on to say,

"I will follow close behind her, try to hold up and be brave
but I could not hide my sorrow when they laid her in the grave."

I know everyone in the room has been there. It's a universal experience, letting our mother's go. Interesting too that the song gives a feeling of hope and connection - rather than sadness. It's because we are not alone in our feelings and experience.

Other universal songs are, "My Girl" by The Temptations - this always brings a smile and "Stand By Me."

"When the night has come, and the land is dark
and the moon is the only light you see
well I won't be afraid, no I won't be afraid
just as long, as you stand
Stand by me..."

When we sing that song, we are standing by and with each other.  A song can be the one who stands by us and gets us through a rough patch at times.

Yesterday the song that bonded my group the most was an unexpected one. Someone requested a song by Elvis Presley. The one that came to mind was, "Hound Dog." When I started to sing this- everyone started clapping and singing along. There were feet stomping too. We laughed and made up our own verses too. I always thought it was a silly song but silliness is part of our collective experience too. We had every feeling in there yesterday.

What songs get you clapping and stomping? May you sing that song today and brighten your day!

Thank you for stopping by!