Written by: Gabby Jones, Music Therapy Intern
Within the week, I will be officially halfway through my music therapy internship. I’ve learned so much in the last three months, consistently growing in my musical and therapeutic skills. I have experienced very difficult moments, and very magically successful ones. This story is somewhat a combination of both those adjectives…
It was a Friday afternoon at approximately 1:30pm. I was halfway through my biweekly session with older adults with dementia and our theme was, “The Sun, Moon, and Stars”. I had boldy chosen to use “Moon River” by Audrey Hepburn as one of our sing-along choices for the week. I humbly plucked through the complicated guitar chords, focusing much more on the delivery of the song than the response of the clients. Participation in singing was relatively low, likely because of my disengagement with the group. I finished the last line: “moon river and me” and looked up from my guitar.
The participant to the right of me was smiling, narrowing her eyes at me over her glasses. “Somebody royally screwed that song up, didn’t they?” she said, laughing through her jibe at my barely passable deliverance of Hepburn’s ballad. I laughed and said in response, “You’re right, that wasn’t that great, was it?”, acknowledging that I probably should’ve practiced the song a few more times to make sure I had the timing right. My client shrugged. To my surprise, however, she began singing.
She started with the verse: “Moon river, wider than a mile”. Her tone was clear, her vibrato was chilling, her smile was infectious. I subtly began playing my guitar underneath her voice, maintaining eye contact. She kept singing, “two drifters, off to see the world”. The rest of the group was the quietest I had ever heard them. I could feel the eyes of the other participants, the rest of the care team, and my supervisor on us. But they weren’t focused on me, they were focused on this beautiful gift this participant was sharing.
As she sang the final line of the song, her eyes filled with tears. She smiled brightly and glanced at the rest of the group as they all applauded. “That was beautiful. Thank you for sharing your gift with us”, I said to her. Her usual jovial demeanor returned quickly and she brushed off my compliment, but it was clear that an emotional connection had been made.
This experience was heartwarming and delicate, and it taught me so much. I learned how important it is to sometimes be the simple structural support for the client, the concrete foundation under the house. I was not the center of the experience, nor was I really the leader. I recognized that although I had started the session with the intention of being the sole provider of the musical experiences, I didn’t have to be. One of the most beautiful aspects of music therapy is that it offers opportunities for the people we serve to discover and explore their own musical abilities. Sometimes, the therapeutic presence of space and time is all that’s necessary. I simply established said space and offered said time in which this client could explore her own memories, emotions, and musical expression. All she needed was an ear to listen and a guitar to support.
If you’re a therapist yourself, consider reflecting on moments either where you did simply become part of the “background music”, or where you could have to better address goal areas.
If you are a client of a particular therapy, consider reflecting on moments where you felt as though you were leading yourself toward your own progress and how that independence might have aided you.
Providing music therapy services for early childhood to older adults, music instruction and enrichment plus continuing music therapy education in Greater Charlotte Area of the Carolinas.