Monday, June 18, 2018

Who's the leader of the club that's made for you and me?



I work on weekends at a nursing home in town and bring my guitar and go room to room to sing. I am always richly rewarded by the responses I get. There is a resident who is severely disabled and bedridden. All of the times I have been in her room, she was hooked up to a ventilator and not conscious. So I was surprised today when I went to her room and she was awake.

 As I got out my guitar, I saw she moved to try to turn the TV off. She appears paralyzed or at least extremely limited mobility. I asked her If she wanted me to turn the TV off and she mouthed the word, "please." She is unable to talk as she has a trachea in her throat. When I started to play my guitar, she watched me with a curious expression. I was trying to find a song that she would connect with. Since she is black, I sang some spirituals but she did not appear to recognize them. I guessed her age to be early 60s but none of the songs of that era seemed to strike a chord. So I looked around her room to gain clues about what kind of songs would resonate. Sometimes residents have a Bible or a picture of Jesus or Mary and that helps me to know they would like hymns. In her room, she was surrounded by Mickey Mouse things. She had a Mickey Mouse clock on the wall and was covered with a Mickey Mouse blanket. On the floor next to her bed, I found a Minnie Mouse doll.  I picked up Minnie Mouse and asked her if she wanted her in the bed with her. She nodded yes. Then I got the idea, judging by her facial expressions that she probably had some brain damage or developmental disability.  I got the inspiration to start talking to her through Minnie Mouse. I made my voice like Minnie's and I sang to her the Mickey Mouse TV theme song. 

"Who's the leader of the club that's made for you and me? M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E, Mickey Mouse! Mickey Mouse!"  


She smiled and brightened with this! I saw I was onto to something. I kept singing and talking to her with Minnie in my hand and even had Minnie do a little dance for her. When it was time to go, I put Minnie into her arms and she held out her hand and I took her hand in both of mine and thanked her for letting me come and visit her. I told her I really enjoyed singing with her. We stayed holding hands for awhile. I was so moved by this experience! I have worked there nearly a year and never knew she could communicate at all. I will make sure I go see her all the time now.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

We've Got the Whole Earth in Our Hands


Today I enjoyed teaching nature themed songs at Wildrock nature center in Crozet. This is a great place way out beyond the town where there is not even reception on your cell phone.  Good to feel off the grid for awhile and play outside. This place has lots of play areas indoors too for kids to explore. They have educational areas to teach about animal life in the wilderness and a botanical area, camping gear to on display, magical forests. Outside you can hike to the stream or walk the labyrinth or play and dance on the stage or go fishing. There are lots of animals around too. Sheep, horses, cows, frogs, fox, deer and probably bears out there too.

There were groups of 1st and 2nd graders that came on a field trip there and I taught them some of my favorite Native America songs. How about:

"The Earth is our mother, we must take care of her 2x
Hey yanna, ho yanna, hey yon yon..."

Or from the Lakota tribe:

"I am one with the infinite sun
forever and ever and ever
keyo teh leno leno maho teh
heino heino heino."

We talked about caring for the environment and things we could do to help. Things like reusing things instead of throwing away and recycling.

I sang them some songs about recycling:

"We've been working on recycling (to the tune of "I've Been Workin on the Railroad"
all the trash we can
we've been working on recycling
it's a very simple plan..." etc.


We then talked about camping out and being out in nature and singing campfire songs. The children taught me some new ones and I taught them some of our old ones we sang as a child. Songs like, "Old MacDonald," and "Bingo."

It was a fun time!

Sunday, June 3, 2018

We all live in a yellow submarine...


I love my work playing for patients at the hospital. Each patient is unique with varied circumstances that require a unique musical prescription. Since I primarily play for ICU patients, most of them are too ill to respond or speak or acknowledge me in any way. I sit by their bedside and watch their responses register on the monitors as I weave improvised melodies or my own compositions. Since they are unable to speak, I rarely play a piece that would be familiar to them since I would not know if it could be linked with a emotionally charged memory. (Cannot afford to tap into a negative memory when they are so ill) Instead, I seek to bring down their heart rate and stabilize their pulse using soothing melodic phrases made up just for them.  If you think of the music like a food, then you can imagine I try to play them a musical elixir or broth that is easy to digest. 

Every now and then though, I meet a patient in different circumstances that call for upbeat songs.  That was the case today when I walked into the room of a woman who was awake and receptive to the music. We immediately struck up a lively conversation about music and artists she loved. Linda Ronstadt, Aaron Neville, Johnny Cash to name a few. Her mother used to play the guitar, so she was really excited that I also played it. 

Since she was the age of someone who would likely appreciate The Beatles, I played for her, "Here Comes the Sun." She instantly brightened and sang along. Then she requested,  "Yellow Submarine."  I played what I remembered of the song and she burst into tears, saying that her mother (now deceased) used to sing her that song when she was a child. I then played her one of my own compositions, "Choose the Sky" and she got the idea to video tape me so that she could show her daughters. After my song, she requested I play, "Yellow Submarine" again and got the idea to improvise my own lyrics to the verses based on things she told me. I sang:

"Now your mamma used to sing this song to you, when you were young
and we sing it here again so that everyone can sing along
We all live in a yellow submarine, yellow submarine, yellow submarine…" etc…

When we finished singing together, she put her camera down and threw open her arms and we hugged for a long time as she cried. She said, "That brought me so much peace!"  You helped me so much!" 


What she does not know is that she also helped me so much. It is not often I have people like her who are so responsive to the music. What she did not know is that I purposely went in to work today because I had troubles of my own I wanted to put aside. My favorite way of helping myself get through a rough patch is to do something for someone else. For that whole time I was with this woman and sharing our stories and music, we both were able to put our troubles aside. I also know my own "troubles" pale in comparison and I left feeling so grateful not only for all that I do have but the gift she gave me of feeling I was helpful.