Music Moves

Perspectives & Insights from a Local Music Therapist

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This week began like any other week (or any other week in North Dakota, at least):  Sunday took us into what looked like it might be a snow day, but we forged ahead safely into programming at the School for the Blind with a group of 7 to 10 year olds whose parents managed the drive from their home towns across the state to stay with us for the week and work on goals like strengthening their literacy and social skills.  The energy of those little bodies and minds was quite a contrast to the mood my psych groups have had lately – they’ve been rather somber in general (I’m certain the weather has something to do with it).  In fact, it was actually my original intent to write about that population this week, and the sensitivity it often requires to address their needs musically.  When the news from the Boston Marathon and then the West Texas plant came trickling down through social media and word of mouth at my sessions, I thought for sure the week would take on an additional air of “somber-ness” in the wake of what had happened, and that writing such a post might be too unpleasant and heavy, and in some respects it has become that way (particularly after the West story broke, two tragedies back to back seemed enough to make you want to never check the news again), but not with so much weight as I anticipated. Part of this was due to “let’s not bring it up unless it’s brought to us” becoming the unspoken rule of the week at most of my placements (and with many of my clients not having access to TVs, it did take some time before these events found their way to our sessions), but ultimately the theme that seemed to carry from the events in Boston and from West were those little acts of heroism and solidarity across the country: Boston runners continuing on from the race track to donate blood, groups across the country uniting to help in any way that they can, even if its just to pause for a moment and pray.  My psych clients seem inspired by it all.  And I’ve felt inspired too – inspired to still write about the needs of those clients I see in psychiatric facilities, inspired by seeing that little bit of light return to their faces, despite all the terror, when so often this time of year, and in light of such events, everything may seem to be dark and cold.

Now, none of this diminishes the tragedy of what has happened – the deaths and injuries of these two events are going to be on the minds of many for many a day to come, and right that they should be – they were immense and terrible.  But one of the biggest things I work on with my psych clients is expanding their perspective: the importance of looking beyond how you feel in the immediate moment outward to how others around you might be feeling, and ultimately, how all those feelings can work together to bring about peace and productivity.  And rarely is that kind of empathetic perspective more of a necessity than in a tragedy.  Perspective that is clear and open helps us to see what we need, not just what we want, and it helps us move forward rather than stay frozen in place. It’s how we survive, how we move on, stronger, and more united than before.

So how do you use music to help someone who is frozen and locked in a limited perspective? One of my favorite tools as a Music Therapist is lyric analysis. With this tool I can look at a song with my clients, any song, and use it as a catalyst for talking about specific scenarios, without necessarily having to reference the scenario itself. For example, the song “Hold On” by the Alabama Shakes came up this week, and in talking about the title phrase in which the singer sustains one note over the beat of the music (“Hooooooold on…….”) one client mentioned how that rhythmic choice seemed to intentionally mirror the definition of the words in the phrase, seeing as the singer literally “held on” to that one note for so long. We then discussed how that musical phrasing could become a mantra, or “catch phrase” for our own stressful or difficult times, to take a deep breath in and exhale for the same amount of time as that phrase. Hooooooold on……. This sort of concept may seem so simple, and yet it’s easy to forget in times of stress. Having a mantra or phrase that comes out of a calm mindset that you can practice recalling with minimal effort can invoke near instant calm when you need it, and with calmness comes clarity, and with clarity, openness…perspective… if you can tell yourself to just “hold on,” and keep breathing, you can tell someone else to hold on, and keep breathing, and so we all keep breathing together.  We all hold on.

So, all that said, I hope you’re holding on, wherever you are!  In my kids sessions this week we’ve been singing the song “Green Grass Grows All Around.”  The song isn’t true for us in North Dakota just yet (plenty of snow on the ground still!), but we’re positive it will be soon, both emotionally and physically.  Rain or shine I’ll be running in my second 5k soon, this time for Autism Awareness at UND’s Autism Speaks fundraiser, then it’s off to the Hands On Learning Fair to share a table with some of my fabulous Music Therapy colleagues.  Soon after I hope to release Loopy Stanley 2013 to share with you all too! Brighter days are around the bend, to be sure.  Until then…Hooooooold on…


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