I encountered an elderly patient this week who was quite angry with one of her physicians. After introducing myself and explaining that her nurse had recommended I play for her, Elaine responded, “I’m so angry right now that I don’t think I would enjoy your music one bit, and I love music!” As soon as she finished, Elaine appeared embarrassed by her outburst and tried to recover saying, “Oh, I suppose one song wouldn’t be so bad.”
As soon as I began playing an instrumental prelude to a familiar piece, her countenance softened and a smile spread across her face. “Oh! I wasn’t expecting your music to be so beautiful. Keep playing.” As I did, Elaine sang along for a while before asking a series of questions about how I learned to play guitar, how long I had been playing and did I play professionally. Over the next 20 minutes, Elaine and I shared stories from our past and she told me about her husband’s career as a musician and their life together.
At one point, Elaine said, “I’ve almost forgotten why I was so angry. Your music and our conversation just allowed all that anger to float away. You’ve made my day.” For Elaine, the healing may not have been as much about the music as it was in my being present and listening to her share her story.
As I walked out of her room, I remembered a conversation that I had with a hospital chaplain a few years ago. He marveled at how music had the ability to break down emotional barriers that patients sometimes have. He shared, “I can meet with a patient six or seven times and not develop the level of intimacy that you often achieve after 20 minutes of music. Music can be such a powerful medium that is able to scale over the highest walls or break through the most formidable fortresses.
Caring, serving and sharing one another’s burdens is a gift that is not reserved for Music Practitioners, but it is for all of us if we will only take the time to look for those opportunities that present themselves to us each and every day.