“I’m not musical.”
“I’m not a musician.”
“I love music, but I’m bad at it.”
In one music therapy group that I co-facilitate, we have banned all three of the above statements. We have come to believe that these statements simply don’t help anybody in any way.
Similarly, at Room 217, when we teach the Music Care Certificate Course’s module on using the voice as a caring instrument, instructors emphasize that anyone can use their voices in a caring way, despite whether they’ve been told their whole lives that they “can’t sing.”
Because while it is true that being a great performing musician involves skill, and practice, and discipline, and a certain level of mastery, music itself is about something bigger than skill, practice, and mastery.
Music is about relationships.
Music always happens in relationship – a relationship between performer and audience, or between performing musicians, or within a community or family, or within a relationship with oneself and one’s sense of beauty and meaning. The rehearsing choir or jazz quartet will experience music in relationship to each other; the father singing a lullaby to his infant child will experience music in relationship to his suckling audience; the guitar-playing songwriter composing by herself one quiet night will experience music in relationship to her beliefs, values and views of the world.
It’s these relationships that drive the music. Without the relationship, the musicians would have no need to make music.
As caregivers interested in using music to strengthen our caring relationships, it is valuable and important to remember that music is all about relationships.
The hospital where I work recently hosted a few of our local symphony’s musicians to play a noon-hour concert for patients and staff. They played both in the main lobby and in the small lounge on a unit full of very sick patients. Though their audiences were small – at most 6 or 7 gathered at any given time – their impact was huge. By simply offering a bit of live music in this clinical space, patients and staff were able to feel cared for, and to connect with the musicians and with each other. The musicians, who are used to performing for full concert halls, spoke of how gratifying it was to play for such an appreciative community. The numbers didn’t matter; the relationships established was currency enough.
It is often not just music itself, but the relationship that music happens in, that can be healing. I recently worked with a patient who was experiencing severe post-operative pain. Her medical team felt that music could be relaxing and support her pain management.
Often, I find that the sense of intimacy and presence in the room instantly deepens as soon as we start playing live music. It was no different with this patient. When we met, and when I began to play some quiet live music in her room, our sense of knowing each other suddenly became much stronger. There was an intimacy and shared humanness that was created in the room by adding the presence of music. She cried through some of the music at first, and then settled and began to pray.
Through deepening that relationship quickly, we were able to discuss some of her deeper anxieties and fears. Similarly, through introducing music into the room, she found she was able to connect with her own sense of purpose, values, and strength.
We are still using music as a pain protocol for her, but she finds it is her connection to her own strength through the music, rather than some measurable relaxing quality of the music itself, that helps manage her pain.
Never underestimate the caring capacity of sharing music with a person. Gently singing together, or listening to a meaningful album or song, or inviting a person to sing or play for us, when done with the spirit of care, can create depth in a relationship beyond our wildest expectations. These caring relationships can help mend bodies and heal hearts.
Sarah Pearson is a music therapist working in oncology and palliative care in Kitchener, ON . She is the Program Development Coordinator for the Room 217 Foundation and Lead Facilitator of the Music Care Certificate Program.