During a recent session at a long term care facility, the son of one of my clients was in the common area playing jazz piano for his father. The other residents gathered in a circle shortly before my session was scheduled to begin.
I noticed how soothing the piano playing was for the clients, and the warm smile on the face of the pianist’s father. I felt it would be a shame to lose such a positive musical atmosphere that had already developed, so I asked the son if he’d like to continue playing some of the songs I had prepared for the session. He was very happy to be invited to participate.
The pianist was quite skilled and sensitive, following my vocal-phrasing as I stopped in front of each client and sang at a tempo which seemed to connect with each individual.
For a couple of songs, I stood by the piano while making eye contact with the clients as if dedicating the song to them. Midway through the session, I played a couple of guitar pieces to explore different tone qualities.
One client was thrilled and exclaimed: She is “Mary”! (A pseudonym for the name of their last music therapist). A notable observation was that this same client was very resistant to the pianist before the session began. He stated ‘This pianist is a showoff” and added that music time with “Mary” was more enjoyable because everyone was able to participate, making the encounter more meaningful. By the end of the session, he was more receptive to the pianist.
This situation made me reflect upon how differently performance-musicians and music therapists could be perceived by our clients, even though we are both creating music. It reminded me how important it is to engage and connect musically with the clients to create a meaningful experience.
After the session, some clients expressed their joy of being part of this musical moment. I heard comments like “Why is it over?”, “I love music”, “I was a singer but now my voice is fading away; today I had the opportunity to use my singing voice”.
I feel lucky to be working as a music therapist. It is a job where I share my musicality with a variety of people from different backgrounds, and where, from time to time, I am inspired by special moments like the one I described above.