Music Therapy

“One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”

Bob Marley

We had a reprieve this week and it was powerful, beautiful, exciting and soothing. Sitting in a seat with not enough leg room, surrounded by people sitting and standing wherever they could to see the stage, isn’t an ideal spot for a body like mine. The auditorium is, what I would consider, still new and it bothers me that it wasn’t built big enough to accommodate its purpose and its purpose is growing, wonderfully growing. Luckily, for all those who did not get an actual seat or a spot with a view, their ears were the ones in for a treat and a good line of vision wasn’t necessary. My experience included much more than what was rehearsed and scheduled for the night and a good line of vision was, however, necessary for me and so I am grateful for the seat with not enough leg room. It was the first choir concert of my daughter’s junior year in high school, the music was amazing and I felt no pain.

There are so many things I love about choir music. I love how it can be complex and layered yet clear and focused at the same time. Different cultures and histories are often represented as well as new technique and styling, while the arrangements can express everything from melancholy and infatuation to just plain silliness. What I love the most, however, is that it truly “takes a village” to be what it is. Even if the arrangement includes a soloist, every part needs the others to be what it is meant to be. Each voice and voice part is equally important in choirs of every size because, without each other, none can reach their full potential. It is this fundamental part of choir that gives my daughter a sense of belonging and being needed when I know it’s been hard for her to feel these things really anywhere else outside of our home. Her body has been controlled by the pain, fatigue and muscle weakness of Rheumatoid Arthritis since March of this year. The last seven months have been amongst the hardest months of my life and I can only imagine how hard they’ve been for her. There are many things she hasn’t been able to do and watching those things either go on without her or simply go away has been almost unbearable at times. Luckily, RA hasn’t taken away music. While piano has been a more successful accomplishment and was even included as part of her physical therapy, she has had only a few triumphant occasions where her hands have been able to play the guitar, but her voice has remained what it has always been….beautiful!

Before this night, a choice presented itself that, to many, wouldn’t seem as significant as it was for us. My daughter had decided years ago that she was going to finish high school early and so she took academically heavy course loads both her freshman and sophomore year and took both summer and online classes at the local community college to earn duel high school and college credit. Unfortunately, her disease has been extremely stubborn to treat and its continuing progression has meant more time at doctor appointments and home in bed. Not wanting to start college simply because she could, she decided to take the year back and graduate with her class. She now has time to gain strength physically as well as time to enjoy her last two years of high school. When having to decided classes, she had always chosen academic electives to get ahead and to appeal to university admission counselors which is why she had chosen an advanced language course, offered only the same class period as one of the two choirs her auditions had awarded her last spring. This was a painful sacrifice. After several weeks watching how hard everything was for her at school and seeing how sad and depressed she had become, I reminded her that she now had another year and the academic elective could now wait until next year. She wanted to be in the choir and we both knew it was something she really needed for herself emotionally but she really struggled making the decision. Dropping an academic class so she could sing with two choirs instead of just one felt academically foolish to her. I talked with her about what it means to take care of our emotional selves and that it was not only okay to make a choice simply because it is what you enjoy, it is sometime imperative to do so for your health….and so she did. From the moment I got off of the phone with her counselor and told her it was official there was a light in her eyes I hadn’t seen in several months and that light only grew bigger until this night, the night I sat in the seat without enough leg room and without any pain. I not only heard the beautiful music, I saw my daughter joyful on stage. There she was, lending her beautiful voice to creating such wonderful music and she was smiling.

It wasn’t until recently that I had heard the term “music therapy”. I knew that music helped with memorization and I had often made up jingles to help remember things for tests when I was in school. I also knew that music could arouse different emotions, either by its connection to a memory, the lyrics or even just its beat. I knew it had influential power but I never thought much about whether or not it had actual healing capabilities. I now know that it does because I have seen it, heard it and felt it. The music did hit me that night and I didn’t feel any pain, which isn’t the expected outcome of someone with Multiple Sclerosis sitting for a while in a seat that doesn’t allow you to stretch. I don’t know whether my daughter had several moments without physical pain or none at all that night on stage, but I do know that her emotional pain had been soothed and it showed, physically. The power music has on my daughter and her Rheumatoid Arthritis can’t be denied or ignored. Music is therapy for her and it is an important tool in her fight that should always be remembered.

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