Music Therapy & Sleep

By Ray Leone, MMT, MT-BC, head of A Place To Be’s medical music therapy program at Inova.

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We all know how important sleep is in healing, recovery and wellness. Good sleep is one of the most important ways to reset, refocus and rebound. With sleep being so important in every aspect of good health and healing, why is it so hard to get good sleep in a hospital? The noise of the monitors, various hospital staff interrupting good sleep (although, for good reasons) and just being out of sorts from the environment all lead to interrupted sleep. Sleep is essential, yet when we most need it, while in the hospital, it can be very difficult. As a music therapist working in a medical setting, when I can help patients sleep, that seems to be a great thing and this is an area where Music Therapy can be very effective. Recently, throughout the course of one day I was able to help 4 patients move into a sleep state…with music (and some relaxation techniques).

First there was the gentleman, in his early 50s, who had been in the hospital for almost 2 weeks as a result of complications with various medication abuse. When I met him, he was pleasant and open to music therapy. He also looked exhausted and told me that he was very anxious about where he would go from here (both figuratively and literally). After a brief chat he said, “I’m so tired. I’ve never felt this tired. I just need some sleep.” Through improvised music and focus, he fell asleep during our session.

Next there was the woman, in her 40s, with throat cancer. She was dealing with significant pain and some issues with confusion, seemingly from powerful medications. She was aware of my presence when I greeted her and was able to tell me that she was in “constant pain”; the kind that you probably can’t imagine unless you experience it. She also looked exhausted and very weak. I suggested she close her eyes and focus on the sound of the guitar. As I played I occasionally coached her on some deeper breathing. After about 30 minutes…she was soundly sleeping.

There was the woman, in her 30s, in the oncology unit. Her nurse asked me to visit because of anxiety and pain (she could not give more meds for a while). This patient also has cerebral palsy and has very limited movement capacity, which may exacerbate her pain. When I entered her room, her face told the entire story…pain, in her abdomen area as a result of surgery the previous day. Again, “Focus on the music… Let the music take you away for a bit… Breathe…” It took her awhile to settle but soon - she was sleeping.

And finally, the gentleman, in his 50s, also dealing with pain as a result of advanced stomach cancer. He and his wife were both very pleasant and welcoming but both looked exhausted, especially him. In conversation there appeared to be a real fear of the unknown (for both). Again, “Let the music take you away and give you a break…” I incorporated some guided imagery for him; “Think of a place in your mind where you feel very comfortable and at ease. A beach? The mountains? Someplace at home? Focus… Go there in your mind…” (all supported with improvised music on the guitar). He seemed to fall asleep for a bit, his affect softened considerably…comfort. He and his wife were holding hands and his relief seemed to help her. As the music concluded, after a few moments he slowly opened his eyes. A slight smile, “I felt like I was in a big open field. It was warm. It was open. Everything was open.” Then… “Will you be able to come back tomorrow?”

The constant here was the music. Live, improvised music that I was providing on the guitar. I don’t believe that any of these patients would have moved towards a sleep state with recorded music. This is Music Therapy. The music was purposeful and different for each patient even though we were working on the same goals and outcomes - relaxation…pain reduction…sleep. The music took them and went with them on their own personal journeys. There was some purposeful tension incorporated into the music to start, with dissonance and minor modes, then slowly moving to release, moving towards more harmony and soothing sounds and tones. Tempos fluctuated as needed, following the patient…following their breathing rhythms. The music was leading and the music was following, in the moment. The music was dynamic and the music was fluid. And yes, there was some occasional verbal guidance, but…the driving force was the music, presented live, individualized and in the moment. This is why Music Therapy, as a medium, can help relax, can help relieve, …sleep.

The healing power of music…

(*the stories presented in this blog are based on accounts and experiences and are not actual accounts and experiences)

The Intimacy of a Shared Music Experience…in the Oncology Unit

By Ray Leone, MMT, MT-BC, head of A Place To Be’s medical music therapy program at Inova.

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One of the unique elements, when providing music therapy in an acute care hospital setting, is sharing a music experience with a total stranger – a total stranger, often times, with a debilitating disease, or in intense pain, or going through powerful chemotherapy treatment, or transitioning towards the end of life. And every single time I share music with a patient in these heightened situations, in the hospital, I am truly amazed at the intimacy these shared music experience creates between us; total strangers that have just met minutes prior.

We know that music is very powerful on any given day. We know that music can bring on or create emotion. We know that music can be a form of expressing deep, sometimes untapped feelings. And we know that music can create intimacy. I’ve performed music for most of my life in various capacities, from giant theaters to small intimate settings. However, there is nothing like the intimacy created within a shared music experience with someone who is hurting (emotionally or physically) in a hospital setting. The music seems to take over and bring us together on another level.

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I recall recently visiting with a woman in her 50s in the oncology unit. She was dealing with intense pain from the cancer that was taking over her body. After a quiet introduction I simply let the music take over. As I often do in these situations, I just started playing the guitar and let the music unfold, going where it wanted to go as I worked to create a connection…through the music. I imagined what she may be feeling, both physically and emotionally, and allowed the music to gently match those feelings with the sounds, rhythms and harmonies (including minor idioms and dissonance). The music worked to validate those feelings, showing empathy for those feelings within the soundscape. Once we were entrained together, I then allowed the music to start moving to more soothing sounds and modes, letting the music start to bring some comfort…take her to another place that is not “cancer” - “pain” - “hospital room”. We move there together. I can often times “feel” what she is feeling. For 45 minutes the room is so unbelievably quiet, except for the sounds of the guitar. The experience is so…intimate. In this specific session, when I finished, she remained with her eyes closed for several minutes and I just sat in pure silence. When she finally opened her eyes she gave a slight smile, looked at me and said, “I felt like I was floating…in water. I felt…free. Everything just seemed to melt away for a bit and I just felt like I was…floating.” I asked her about her pain and she said, “Hmmm…I feel somewhat outside of it right now.”

There was a gentleman I visited with recently, in his 40s and dealing with what was becoming the end stages of a form of leukemia. His wife was by his side and I was asked to visit because of his extreme anxiety. The nurses did not want to give anymore medications. I entered the room and he and his wife both looked out of sorts (wouldn’t you?) with somewhat pained looks on their faces. However, when I introduced myself they welcomed me in. I asked him how he was doing and he just said, “This does not look good.” (I could tell that was what they were dwelling on.) I said, “I understand. How about if we just take a little time to refocus on something different…like music.” I suggested that he close his eyes and just…listen and breathe. “Let the music take over for a bit.” And…I started to play. As the music started progressing, she took his hand and slowly, both now with eyes closed, I could sense that they were truly taking in the music. The pained looks on their faces were slowly softening. The music seemed to be taking them somewhere else in that moment. Somewhere besides angst. As I played (or, really just let the music “come out” of the guitar), again, the moment was so intimate; the three of us in this shared music experience. When the music ultimately concluded he appeared to be asleep. She stared at him for a few moments. She then looked at me and through tears quietly said, “Oh…he really needs to sleep. Thank you.”

I have hundreds of stories like these and each is unique unto itself. Everyone takes in music in their own way and the way they take in the music endorses how the music will change, progress and where it will go. It’s a dynamic process. However, the one consistency in all of these experiences is – intimacy. Intimacy that is unlike any other experiences of “intimacy” I know or have experienced outside the hospital room.

Perhaps the pure aesthetics of the “art” simply takes over. Perhaps the music allows for something that is not “medical intervention”. Perhaps the music brings back a sense of self, brings them to the “outside” world again. Or, perhaps experiencing music in a heightened situation as such just takes us to another level that we cannot explain. (Isn’t that what music does?) The music is not going to cure them. The music is not going to take away their disease. The music is not going to change their entire outlook on what they are experiencing. But, the music gives them something like nothing else. A moment. A moment to feel like you are floating in water. A moment of peace, quiet or…sleep. A moment of connection to the outside world. A moment of feeling like a real person again, even though for just a while. A moment of intimacy.

When I leave these hospital rooms, I also feel honored. I feel honored that these people allow me into their world during these very trying times. I am honored that they trust me and I am honored that they experience the music that I am bringing (or harnessing from somewhere) into their world. And the experiences I have, every time I leave their rooms - the intimacy of the moment, the power of the shared music experience, the honor I feel - will never ever go away. That I am sure of. The other thing that I am sure of is that music, in a medical setting, is very powerful and Music in a medical setting is like nothing else.

The healing power of music…

(*the stories presented in this blog are based on accounts and experiences and are not actual accounts and experiences)

Music is Life

Raymond Leone, MMT, MT-BC is a Board-Certified music therapist and the head of A Place To Be’s Medical Music Therapy Program. He, along with four other music therapists and our interns visit thousands of patients each year at Inova. They witness the positive impact of music therapy on critically ill patients every day.

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Last year, Ray met a 60-year-old woman in the oncology unit. She was weary from her many hospital stays, including a tough journey through intensive chemotherapy and radiation treatment. She was now back in the hospital dealing with breathing issues. “She confided in me, that she sometimes feels that her illness is never ending, and that she was starting to feel burdensome to her family,” Ray said.

After listening to her story, they spoke about music. Ray learned that the woman loved to sing and listen to folk and country music from the 60s and 70s. “But I don’t feel like singing much these days,” she told him. Ray suggested they put all the “hospital” thoughts aside for a bit and just sing. “And...we sang,” he said. “Joni Mitchell, Peter, Paul and Mary, some John Denver. When she was in the music experience, when she was singing - everything seemed to change. Suddenly she was smiling. Suddenly there was energy in her body. Suddenly she looked...alive.”

After they finished, the woman told Ray, “For so long, I have felt as though I have just been existing. The music, singing, makes me feel like I’m living.”

There are many distresses we can address with music therapy in the hospital including pain management, anxiety, coping with hospital stays, emotional support, comfort and disorientation, but this quote “Music makes me feel like I’m living,” really expresses the core of why music!

“A hospital stay, going though treatment, being hooked up to a ventilator to help with breathing, all of these things take a little bit of our identity, autonomy and self-worth (and our lives) away,” explained Ray. “Music can help bring that back, even in an oncology unit or an ICU. When we feel like we are living, we are more motivated to get better and, well, continue living. Music is healing. Music is motivating. Music is empowering. Music is life.”

in 2018, A Place To Be:

  • Provided music therapy to more than 2,700 patients at Loudoun, Fair Oaks and Fairfax

    hospitals

  • Served hospital patients. 90% of whom were new

    to music therapy

See page 11 of our 2018 Annual Report, Music Got Us Here, for more on our Medical Music Therapy program.

The Day MaMa Bear Needed A Hug

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Phoebe has been coming to A Place To Be for several therapeutic reasons including anxiety and panic attacks. Last summer she took on the role of Mama Bear in our original musical Human Tales. This was her very first acting experience and her first time singing in public ever, and Mama Bear was a lead role with at least 100 lines and multiple songs! During the two-week camp, Phoebe methodically and deliberately learned her lines, music and blocking. Many times during rehearsals, overwhelmed by anxiety or panic, Phoebe couldn’t hold back the tears, and would need to take a break. But no matter how many times that happened, she always came back to the stage more determined than ever, and continued her work as an actress.

At A Place To Be we embrace all our clients with a safety net of love so they can feel free to express themselves and take risks. There is nothing more vulnerable than getting up on stage in front of hundreds of people to act, sing or dance. Our performance-based therapy approach utilizes structure, inclusivity, supportive leaders, trained therapists and a humanistic, person-first approach to directing people with disabilities and challenges. Having a chance to perform and achieve a level of artistic accomplishment motivates our clients, disguises the therapy, and inspires growth and confidence. That our cast members share the stage with others who have diverse challenges and take risks too, helps them to feel less alone, less ‘different’, and more a part of something bigger and beautiful.

On dress-rehearsal night, the cast was in full costume and makeup with an audience of 75 eager guests. The goal was to run thru the whole show without stopping. Mama Bear was to say her lines with wit and humor...not tears. But during the scene Phoebe had an anxiety attack. Acting inside a fairytale, dressed in her fuzzy bear costume, her real-world challenges overtook her and she grew dark and shaky.

“I could see the anxiety building up, so I wasn’t surprised when the tears started to flow,” said Lisa Shaw, Phoebe’s Mom. “Every fiber of me wanted to run up there and hug her, but I knew I couldn’t do that. And through her tears, Phoebe kept singing! She didn’t run off stage or break down. She did the opposite. She closed her eyes and pushed through it! She was supported and loved by her cast mates, who went on with the scene, but placed their arms around her. That’s the power of music therapy and LOVE at A Place To Be!”

Through that powerful love, acceptance and trust, and thanks to the motivation of music and theater, Phoebe executed the entire dress rehearsal without stopping and went on to perform three shows to sold out crowds. Phoebe is now part of The Same Sky Project, our touring company that brings inclusive productions to thousands of local middle school students inspiring them to accept themselves and to give empathy to others who may also be struggling in this world.

See page 6 of our 2018 Annual Report, Music Got Us Here, for more.

The Music In Numa

If you walk into one of the music therapy rooms at A Place To Be on a Thursday evening, you may find 9-year-old Numa nestled in mother’s lap, working with his music therapist on his latest therapeutic goals. The room is filled with music, laughter and his mother’s delighted enthusiasm as she lovingly encourages her son on every small progress he makes through music therapy.

Just several years ago, Numa was a typical little boy, full of energy, character and song. Always a lover of music, Numa delighted in belting out tunes from his favorite Broadway musicals like Les Miserables and Mamma Mia, to any audience who would listen. But when Numa was six, he experienced a brain bleed, after an Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM) ruptured turning into an almost deathly stroke, which affected almost all of his daily living functioning. He is now in a wheelchair, nonverbal and dependent on caregivers to fulfill his needs. Despite his many physical challenges, the music is still in Numa.

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Last year, after learning about A Place To Be through his homecare nurse, Numa’s mother, Lula, enrolled her son in music therapy sessions. The family now travels weekly, from northern Virginia to Middleburg, through rush hour traffic, to participate in music therapy.

“We are working on three primary goals, communication, motor coordination and sensory integration,” explained Allison Echard, a Board-Certified musictherapist at A Place To Be. “Before his AVM ruptured, Numa was strutting down sidewalks belting out his favorite songs,” Allison said. “Music is something that has been important in his life. Having the opportunity to be engaged in music now, despite his limitations, is filling him up, motivating and encouraging him to work on his rehabilitation goals.”

Numa’s progress is encouraging. In therapy for less than a year, he is achieving therapeutic goals from vocalizing sounds to finish a musical phrase, to turning his head toward the sound of his favorite pitched bell, to lifting his hand while sitting at the piano with his mother to signal the last note of his favorite song.

But it’s not only Numa who is benefiting from music therapy. Music is helping the whole family stay connected. Often times Numa’s father and his little brother wait patiently in the waiting room at A Place To Be, so very excited to participate in the goodbye song at the end of Numa’s session. And Lula is of course a big part of each music therapy session. While most of Lula’s days are filled with taking care of Numa’s medical needs, frequent doctor visits, managing medicines and staying up with him when he can’t sleep, music therapy gives mother and son the opportunity to reconnect through music, a passion they both have always shared.

“We strongly believe that the power of music can bring our son’s voice back and that one day Numita can share his own story. This brings hope and faith to a family like us,” Lula said. “We are here because we have hope.”

See page 4 of our 2018 Annual Report, Music Got Us Here, for more.

Myself

Caroline is using music therapy to become more vocal and use her voice to advocate for herself. Her therapeutic goals include improving vocal diction and volume and she has grown immensely. 

Enjoy this beautiful and sassy song, the first song Caroline has written, that helps remind us that we are all a work in progress.

"I am myself today.

That doesn't make me inspirational.

I am growing in my self confidence.

My work is to be continued."

Why I Am A Music Therapist: Allison Echard

At A Place To Be, we work everyday to help people with disabilities, medical and mental health struggles face, navigate and overcome life's challenges using the clinically-based practices of music therapy and expressive arts therapy. Our Board-Certified therapists create individualized plans to achieve therapeutic goals and discover unrealized potential all in a supportive, engaging and fun environment.

Our “Why I Am A Music Therapist” video and blog series captures the passion and driving inspiration behind the work. In this edition of “Why I Am a Music Therapist”, Allison discusses the most intimate role of music in the hospital setting, as a family says goodbye to their loved one.

Allison Echard, MMT BT-BC is a board-certified music therapist, born and raised in Harrisonburg, Virginia. She received her Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Music Therapy from Shenandoah University. Allison began her clinical training at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center in Ohio where she worked with patients and families on all medical units, inpatient and residential psychiatric units, and patients receiving in-home hospice and palliative care.

A WILL TO SURVIVE

By Ann Charlotte, William's Mom

William Robinson

Three years ago, our family lost a dynamic, creative, loving young man with enormous promise.  Along with the usual insecurities that seem to plague teenagers, our William was also bravely, silently struggling with a mental illness that we didn't identify until it was too late. The stigma of mental illness that society has maintained for so much of modern history is at the core of this tragedy. My grandfather took his life when my mother was three years old. The story in the family was always that he suffered from alcoholism. At 32-years-old, it seems more likely that there was a serious underlying issue that has cropped up again two generations later. If we treated mental illness more like physical illness, maybe we would have known to take more extensive steps when the first signs appeared. The mission of A WILL TO SURVIVE was to peel open this topic within the population that has suddenly become most vulnerable to it and reveal to the thousands of teens that saw it and identified with something they saw on stage that they are not alone in their struggles.  I am proud to have taken a small part. 

Read more about A WILL TO SURVIVE

Will To Survive Cast

Why I Am A Music Therapist: Ashley Gant

At A Place To Be, we work everyday to help people with disabilities, medical and mental health struggles face, navigate and overcome life's challenges using the clinically-based practices of music therapy and expressive arts therapy. Our Board-Certified therapists create individualized plans to achieve therapeutic goals and discover unrealized potential all in a supportive, engaging and fun environment.

Our “Why I Am A Music Therapist” video and blog series captures the passion and driving inspiration behind the work. Enjoy!

Meet Ashley Gant

Ashley Gant has practiced Music Therapy at A Place To Be since 2012. A Board-Certified Music Therapist, Ashley graduated from Shenandoah University with a Bachelor's of Music Therapy in 2012, and a Master’s in 2016. 

Ashley works with a variety of clients, each with their own challenges, strengths, and personalities. She enjoys working with school aged individuals on the autism spectrum, adults with developmental or intellectual disabilities, children as young as two with Down syndrome, mature adults recovering from a strokes, and everything in between. In addition to offering individual sessions, Ashley is very involved with many other programs at A Place To Be. From Lunch Bunch to Immersion and summer camps; Ashley uses these opportunities to help individuals of all ages socialize, communicate, connect, serve and live.

Music is Connection…Music is Beauty…Even in a Hospital Room

By Ray Leone, MMT, MT-BC 

Ray is a Board-Certified music therapist who directs A Place To Be’s medical music therapy program through a partnership with Inova Health Systems.

One of the greatest benefits of using music as a therapeutic idiom in a hospital setting is that music helps us make connections. Connections to others, connections to thoughts and feelings and, perhaps most importantly, connections to ourselves. Music can help us retrieve and find the real self that is still inside, even when confusion or dementia may take over.

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In the hospital where I work, providing music therapy services, I was recently asked to visit with a gentleman in his early 70s, whom had been in the hospital for about a week, dealing with and consumed with some neurological issues (“altered mental status”) - confusion from dementia and agitation. When I walked into his room he was in the chair, had a pained look on his face with his head down…but not really sleeping. He was subtly rocking back and forth in his chair. It didn’t seem as though he knew where he was or was aware that I was there. I sat down, took out my guitar and simply started playing. I was improvising some sounds, just to gauge where he was and to see if I would get any reaction. After a few moments, he abruptly sat forward and the hospital aide, who was in the room making sure he stayed safe, attended to him and helped him settle back into the chair. He looked at me briefly than seemed to go back into his own inner world. After improvising for a bit more, and not really getting any response, I started playing ‘In My Life’ by the Beatles (just a hunch, based on his age and what I was feeling), quietly and just incorporating some humming to start. When I eventually started singing the lyrics, still presenting everything cautiously down-tempo, he slowly seemed to start “waking up”. As the song progressed his pained face gradually softened; eventually into a slight smile. His entire body appeared to almost jump-start and fill up with life. And then…he started “mouthing” some of the words. When I finished the song, I looked at him and said, “So, you like the Beatles.” He looked at me with a pause, smiled broadly and said, “Oh yeah.” ‘Hey Jude’ was next…more smiling…more singing. And now, he looked like a real person. Not the shell of himself that I met when I came into the room. The hospital aide was standing, looking at him almost in awe; “Mr. A! You’re singing!”

“Do you like Peter, Paul and Mary?” I asked (again, a hunch). “Oh…my favorite!” We sang ‘Where Have All the Flowers Gone’ and then he asked for ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’. Next, Simon and Garfunkel and Joan Baez (he was a “folkie”!) The change that happened was almost as if someone turned on a light switch (a dimmer switch really), and energy just slowly went back into his body - and his soul. Well…music is that energy and music can turn on, or jump-start our brains (remember, music is the only true “whole-brain” activity we know of). Music can help find the real person inside when we are hidden within ourselves. Music can connect us to our past and thus, help bring us into the present. And music can bring beauty into (or back into) our worlds. When we finished, he was smiling and he said, “Oh, I love that music. This is so beautiful…I feel so good.”

“This is so beautiful” was what stood out to me the most. Sometimes it’s simply the pure aesthetics, the pure beauty in music - music that we grew up with, music that we love - that can help us make a connection to the world again. I’m not sure what happened after I left. Perhaps he was still somewhat back to being his old self, or perhaps he went back into his dark inner world. But even at the very least, if something - music - allowed him to experience the aesthetic beauty of the world for 45 minutes, allowed him to simply be “himself” for a little while, while in a hospital for “altered mental status” - is that so bad? Music is connection…Music is beauty…Music is wellness.

The healing power of music...

(*the stories presented in this blog are based on accounts and experiences and are not actual accounts and experiences)

Amy and Ryan The Making of Abira

by Melanie Mullinax

When Abira and the Mountain opens to a packed audience in October, Amy Stone and Ryan Perry will realize yet another dream come true, both in their personal lives, and in their dedication to spreading awareness, empathy and acceptance throughout our community.

Amy, 23, will take the lead role as the beautiful and innovative princess Abira, who happens to use a wheelchair. Ryan, 22, will present the strong voice of the Mountain that helps provide strength and inspiration to Abira, who discovers that by embracing her own challenges, she can also help others.

But the story of Amy and Ryan runs much deeper than playing the leading roles of A Place To Be’s newest full-scale musical.  

Amy Stone and Ryan Perry

Amy, who was born with cerebral palsy, and Ryan, who has high functioning autism, wrote the original screenplay for Abira. The two met at A Place To Be several years ago, and in addition to being strong advocates and ambassadors for supporting others with disabilities in our community, they also began their own fairytale romance. 

At the day of this interview Ryan, beaming at Amy, offered, “We’ve been dating one year, seven months and 19 days.”

Their affection, respect and acceptance of each other is as obvious as their devotion to helping others and expanding understanding. It is also what sparked the idea of Abira and the Mountain.

“We were having a conversation while having lunch at Panera,” Ryan says. “I was telling Amy about how impressed I was with the newest Power Ranger story line, depicting a Power Ranger with Autism.” Amy agreed, adding, “Now we just need a Disney Princess in a wheelchair.”

Despite what may appear to be challenges to casual onlookers, Amy and Ryan have few limitations. So, if Disney was not ready for a princess in a wheelchair, Amy and Ryan were ready to write about one.

Ryan, a talented writer, started the screenplay. He would read back his work to Amy who would comment and make suggestions. What they ended up with was a story of a strong and beautiful princess, who happened to be in a wheelchair, who found the courage and strength to leave the safe confines of her castle to find others like herself, and to become a source of  inspiration and strength.

If you knew Amy, you would recognize this storyline as paralleling her own life.

When Amy first began coming to A Place To Be in 2010, she could barely speak said Kim Tapper, Executive Director of A Place To Be. “Amy has quadriplegic cerebral palsy (which means all four of her limbs are affected). Spending her life in a wheelchair, having numerous caregivers...she felt very vulnerable,” Kim said.  But through music therapy, Amy quickly found her voice both physically and metaphorically. “Amy’s mind is brilliant,” Kim added.  “She is a creative visionary, and she wanted to be known for more than just a girl in a wheelchair.”

Amy helped develop A Place To Be’s signature program, The Same Sky Project®, a traveling group of performers who advocate for and promote messages of empathy, love, inclusion, acceptance and inspiration through music and performance. Since 2011, more than 60,000 local students have been impacted by The Same Sky Project productions.

Amy has also become a tireless mentor, spokesperson and ambassador for both A Place To Be and the local school system, speaking at schools about the challenges student face and even helping to rewrite IEP (Individualized Education Programs) to better support public school children with challenges. “If I can do something to help other kids, so that they don’t have to go through what I went through, it will all be worth it,” says Amy of her work. 

And now, through the art of theater, Abira and the Mountain offers one more venue for Ryan and Amy to share their story, and support and inspire others.

It is not unusual for A Place To Be to use the creative work of its talented clients to create musicals and powerful performances, but Abira and the Mountain is different. “Most of the time, when we produce a musical or performance, our clients are collaborating with us. Abira and the Mountain is truly originated by Amy and Ryan. They brought it to us as a whole story, we are just turning it into a musical to be shared with others,“ Kim said.

But Ryan and Amy are quick to point out, that turning their story into a full-scale musical was still a major undertaking. “The music in the production is astonishing and it was written and arranged by Brandon Hasson (a music therapist at A Place To Be) and the the show features a remarkable and talented group of performers and a production crew that really bring this story to life.”

Abira and the Mountain

Abira and the Mountain will have its public premier in Middleburg, playing one day only at the Hill School on October 7 at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $10 at the door. The musical will then tour Loudoun County Middle schools throughout the fall as part of The Same Sky Project underwritten entirely by generous support from the Virts Miller Foundation.

Amy and Ryan hope the show will move others to spread more compassion and understanding throughout our community. “I hope the messages of the musical don’t just hang in the auditorium. I hope people look around and see people who are different from them and reach out,” Ryan said. Amy added, “This is not just a beautiful show to see on stage, people need to apply it to their real lives. “ 

And if you didn’t catch it, there is not a prince in this story. “We wanted the princess to be able to do this on her own,” Amy said.  Smiling at his own real-life princess, Ryan added, “Maybe we’ll add a prince in the sequel. “

Why I Am A Music Therapist: Skylar Freeman

At A Place To Be, we work everyday to help people with disabilities, medical and mental health struggles face, navigate and overcome life's challenges using the clinically-based practices of music therapy and expressive arts therapy. Our Board-Certified therapists create individualized plans to achieve therapeutic goals and discover unrealized potential all in a supportive, engaging and fun environment.

Our “Why I Am A Music Therapist” video and blog series captures the passion and driving inspiration behind the work. Enjoy!

Meet Skylar Freeman

Skylar Freeman joined A Place To Be as a music therapist after graduating from Shenandoah University with a Bachelor’s in Music Therapy. You can find Skylar leading groups, working with individual clients, and conducting the “Different Strokes For Different Folks” stroke choir. In the summers, Skylar is heavily involved with her favorite A Place To Be program, summer camps!

Saying Goodbye to Cody

By Allison Echard, MMT, MT-BC

This summer, A Place To Be said goodbye to Miss Cody Huntington. After a fierce journey of resilience, love, and strength, Cody passed away this past July. As her music therapist, I want to share how amazing this young woman was and continues to be in the lives of those she touched.

In January of 2017, Cody started music therapy at A Place To Be. She began music therapy after a tragic car accident that resulted in a traumatic brain injury a year and a half prior. When we first started working together, I learned that Cody loved sea turtles, the ocean, and country music. She often wore bright t-shirts that had something to do with one of the three, and over the course of our time together, Cody consistently chose songs like “Toes” by Zac Brown Band to sing and dance to. Through music, we focused on vocalizing and increasing Cody’s mobility. Though she could not speak, Cody vocalized “ah” along to her favorite country and pop songs and stretched her arms, legs, and neck in an effort to play instruments like the guitar and tambourine. Cody developed so much control and strength in her legs that she played the tambourine with her feet at APTB’s Winter Recital by kicking the tambourine to the beat of “Little Drummer Boy.”

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Despite frequent hospital visits and medical complications, Cody and her mom, Karen, (and often an extra family member, friend, and even a dog on occasion) drove all the way from Warrenton each week to come to music therapy. And each week, both Cody and Karen arrived with smiles on their faces and a genuine kindness and warmth that permeated the whole building. Our sessions usually started with an update from Karen on Cody’s latest surgery or treatment that always sounded way more taxing and exhausting than either of them let it on to be. During these particular sessions, I would frequently check in with Cody to make sure she was up for one more exercise, one more try, one more challenge, keeping in mind that she just got home from the hospital. It never failed, however, that Cody would look me right in the eye and give a clear thumbs-up, communicating, “Bring it on!”

Cody demonstrated this resilience and strength up until her final session in June of this year. Although she’s not physically with us anymore, her lessons of strength and love will always be with me, the APTB family, and everyone who knew her. I am especially reminded of this when I hear the song, “Toes” by Zac Brown Band, one of Cody’s favorites during her last several sessions. This is a fun song about going on vacation to the beach and saying goodbye to your home, as the chorus starts: Adios and vaya con dios, which translates to: Goodbye and go with God. I can’t think of a better send-off for Miss Cody, as she has indeed gone with God, and likely to a beach brighter and better than we could ever imagine.

Same story/Different day

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By Ray Leone, MMT, MT-BC 

Ray is a Board-Certified music therapist who directs A Place To Be’s medical music therapy program through a partnership with Inova Health Systems.

This a story that I’ve told many times before:

Recently at the hospital where I work I had the pleasure of spending some time with a gentleman and his family in the oncology unit over the course of a few days.  He is in his late 70s with various medical issues and was, at the time, declining fairly fast.  He had recently become non-responsive and was put on “comfort care”; the goal now of simply keeping him comfortable at this point.  The first day I visited and was asked to help he appeared a bit agitated and perhaps in some pain.  I provided music for him and a few family members to help with relaxation and comfort.

The next day I was asked to return as his daughter was visiting and had heard that the music was helpful.  She greeted me warmly and thanked me for coming as it was just decided that he was soon being discharged to “home-hospice”.  When I saw him now he appeared to be more stable, although still unresponsive, eyes closed and with some labored breathing.  As his daughter sat next to the bed she told me that he loved classic country and folk music.  I started lightly playing some chords on the guitar to set the tone and then merged into a down-tempo version of Johnny Cash’s ‘Ring of Fire’.  As I started to sing the first line - she burst into tears.  As I continued, she was holding his hand and stroking his arm.  And there was a lot of emotion.  When I finished, I sat in silence to give her a moment as, obviously, this song was bringing up something for her.  After a pause she said, “We used to sing that song together when I was a little girl.  I remember sitting on his lap and that is the first song I remember singing with him.  Wow…I was going to ask you to play that but wasn’t sure if I could handle it.”  She then told me that she was having trouble dealing with his rapid decline, especially since her mother passed away less than a year ago.  This was all happening so fast.  After a few more songs, she paused and asked if I could play 'Can’t Help Falling in Love’.  She said that it was her favorite song and she learned it because her father used to sing it all the time; it was even her wedding song.  I started the song and there were a few more tears.  Then, about halfway through, he opened his eyes and appeared to smile.  (I don’t know if he was actually smiling or if he was aware of the music at this point, but for her, in this moment…he was smiling.)  She looked at me and said, “Oh my God…he’s smiling!  I’ve not seen that in quite some time.”  She was now also smiling through her tears (as was I).  It was a very touching moment.  When I finished she said, “Thank you for the music, it was great to hear those old songs again.  And thank you for taking me down memory lane with him one more time.”

Why did I choose 'Ring of Fire’ to start?  Was it by chance?  Why, in other cases, do I seem to choose the song that was played at their wedding, a funeral, the prom, the song when they met?  Is it by chance?

I also recently visited with a lovely older woman in her 80s, and her son who was visiting.  She was in the hospital for some breathing issues, but also had some confusion as a result of dementia.  Her affect was flat and she was looking off when I sat down and took out my guitar, but when I started playing and singing ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’ she held eye contact with me, slightly smiled and finally started lightly singing along.  As the song progressed, I noticed her son leave the room.  After we finished she said, “Do you know, that was my husband’s favorite song and it was sung at his funeral?  He passed away last month."  She then proceeded to tell me a little story about him, when they met and how he would fix up their apartment…and sing that song. 

Music equals connection.  When music is presented and shared, especially during times of such high emotion, there is an immediate connection that happens - between patient, caregiver, daughter, son, friend…me.  Always.  Music brings us together on another level like nothing else.  And music gave a daughter and her father, and a son and his mother, a very meaningful moment during a time when life (and death) makes one question what really is meaningful.  Music creates meaning.  Music creates connection.  And most importantly…music heals.

The healing power of music… 

(*the stories presented in this blog are based on accounts and experiences and are not actual accounts and experiences)

A tale of 2 ladies…and music.

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By Ray Leone, MMT, MT-BC 

Ray is a Board-Certified music therapist who directs A Place To Be’s medical music therapy program through a partnership with Inova Health Systems.

Music, and art in general, is subjective and very personal and on any given day at the hospital where I work, it touches and affects everyone whom I work with in very different ways.  It always amazes me how a simple song, style, mode, key, tempo or chord progression can have an individual effect on personal healing.  I learn something everyday when working in this amazing atmosphere with these amazing people that allow me into the world of their hospital rooms; people who allow me to share music with them during some of the most heightened times of life (and end of life).  I’d like to introduce you to 2 lovely ladies I had the honor to meet this past week:

The first was a woman in her 70s, in the oncology unit, who is now in palliative care for an end stage cancer.  When we met she looked tired and spent, however, was very “with it” and open to having me spend a little time with her.  When I asked how she was doing she said, with a slight smile, “It’s been a long road but I’m here today…and that’s good.”  She wasn’t in pain but just feeling generally bad and after I told her why I was there she said, “Okay, sit down and let’s see what you got."  She loves both spiritual music and the blues (contrast or conformity?) and when I started playing and singing, she closed her eyes and appeared to drift away with the music.  Her somewhat hardened face softened into a peaceful contentedness.  I started with ‘Old Rugged Cross’ and worked my way around to 'Route 66’.  During the later she was slowly grooving with some light movement with her head and feet, although still looking relaxed with her eyes closed while lying in her hospital bed.  When I finished and was packing up she said, "Everyone comes in here and gives me pills and takes blood, you come in and sing to me…now that makes me feel better."  Her smile made me feel warm inside. 

I then met with a woman, in the general unit, in her early 80s who’s in the hospital for various respiratory issues.  She also has dementia and gets agitated when the doctors and nurses try to work with her.  She was accompanied by her very loving daughter who told me that she loves music, also spiritual as well as the music of the 50s (again, conformity?)  When I entered her room she appeared quite confused and had an expressionless face; she barley seemed able to keep her eyes open.  However, when I started playing, just improvising around on the guitar to start, it was as if a switch went on…her face lit up and suddenly there was life in her eyes.  She held my eye contact and smiled.  Her daughter said, "Oh my God…that’s the most I’ve seen out of her today!"  When I stared singing she started bopping her head and when I worked my way to 'This Little Light of Mine’ she started singing along.  Her daughter was laughing through a few tears and took out her phone to film us (she said that she was going to send this to all of her relatives).  After the song, I said to her "You have a beautiful voice.”  And she immediately replied, “No, you have a beautiful voice” and started laughing.  Now there was no confusion and we were having a very real moment, in and around the music.  After a few more songs (and more bopping) I eventually tried to bring things down to close out the session.  I started playing and singing a down-tempo version of 'Love Me Tender’ but after a few phrases, she started bopping again in the bed and the intended “lullaby” turned into an upbeat 50s shuffle.  It was as if she couldn’t help herself…and I was just following her lead.  As I was packing up, her daughter said that the music seemed to just wake her up and that it was amazing to see (it was!)  She (the daughter) then started looking for music to play for her on her phone.  She (the patient) looked right into my eyes and gave me quite a smile as I said goodbye; a beautiful smile that I would cherish for the remainder of the day.

While music is indeed personal and subjective, amongst other things, it can soothe, ease, invigorate, move and bring one into the present moment.  And that is why music is so effective in a medical environment.

The healing power of music…

(*the stories presented in this blog are based on accounts and experiences and are not actual accounts and experiences)

The gift of a song…

By Ray Leone, MMT, MT-BC 

Ray is a Board-Certified music therapist who directs A Place To Be’s medical music therapy program through a partnership with Inova Health Systems.

Several months ago, when I was still fairly new at the hospital where I work as a music therapist, I met Mr. B. in the oncology unit.   Mr. B. was in for a few days for his chemotherapy treatment.  When I entered his room for the first time and introduced myself and told him that I was a music therapist, he looked at me in an odd way; perhaps wondering why I was there and what I was going to do.  Mr. B., in his early 70s, was a bit gruff.  He gave the appearance of a football coach, or a longshoreman, but in a gentlemanly way, offered me a seat.  I asked him how he was doing and he said he felt fine.  It seemed more of an annoyance that he had to stay in the hospital for a few days for his treatment.  He had more important things to get to.  After a bit of small talk, Mr. B. said “Well, are you going to take that guitar out and play something?”

Mr. B. told me that he liked country music, “Real country music, not this crap that you hear today.”  So I started with Johnny Cash.  After I played and sang, Mr. B. looked at me over his glasses and said, “Hmmm…not bad. Since you are here, you might as well play something another one.”  With each song, his stone face softened a bit.  I believe, Mr. B., was finding the music and the company…comforting.  After a few songs and a little more chit-chat, he said, “Ray, before you go, would you play ‘Amazing Grace’?”  As I finished the song, I noticed he was wiping away a few tears.  He then said, “Thank you Ray, I’ll be back in about 6 weeks, maybe I’ll see you then.”

When Mr. B., was back for another round of chemo, I visited with him again.  After a few country songs (real ones), he asked if I knew the song “In The Garden”.   I did not.  He said, “Ray, do yourself a favor and look it up.”  That night I did, and the next day when I went back to see him and played and sang it…more tears.  Mr. B. then opened up a bit about his cancer.  He told me it was a tough road, there was pain that no one knew about and he worried about his family.  But whenever he felt down he would rely on his faith.  He would sing, in his mind, ‘In The Garden’.

The next time I saw him, during his next round, he was looking a bit frail.  “Ray”, he said quietly with his eyes closed, “Will you sing ‘In The Garden’ for me?  I need to hear it.”  I sang, more tears, and then we just sat in silence.

I hadn’t see Mr. B. for months.  And during those months, ‘In The Garden’ became one of my go to songs.  I played it many times, especially for those patients who were really sick and relied on their faith.   Often times, this particular song brought on tears.  And I always thought of Mr. B., wondering how he was doing.

Just recently I saw Mr. B. again, this time in the ICU.  He was in pain, had some various complications and when I said “Hello” to him he said, “Ray, things are not good.”  I didn’t get to visit and share music with him at that particular time as he was going for a procedure.  When I was back on the unit the next day, one of the social workers grabbed me and asked me to go see Mr. B., to see if I could help.  I didn’t know what I was walking into and when I got to his room he looked very frail, he was agitated and very confused.  He was moaning and he was in pain.  It was so hard to see him suffering.  I sat and played.  I didn’t know if he knew I was there.  Finally, I played and sang ‘In The Garden’ and there were tears…they were mine.  Mr. B. passed away the next day.  I had seen him various times over the past year and my last moments with him, fittingly, was with the song ‘In The Garden’.  

Mr. B. gave me a powerful gift, the gift of a song.  A gift that I will never forget and a gift that I will always use and cherish.  A gift that may help others with their own pain, emotions, uncertainty or celebration.  And every time I play and sing ‘In The Garden’, I will always think about my friend…Mr. B.

I come to the garden alone

While the dew is still on the roses

And the voice I hear, falling on my ear

The Son of God discloses

And He walks with me

And He talks with me

And He tells me I am His own

And the joy we share as we tarry there

None other has ever known

The healing power of music…

(*the stories presented in this blog are based on accounts and experiences and are not actual accounts and experiences)

Music to say “Hello” again…and music to say “Goodbye”

By Ray Leone, MMT, MT-BC 

Ray is a Board-Certified music therapist who directs A Place To Be’s medical music therapy program through a partnership with Inova Health Systems.

One of the interesting aspects of working as a music therapist in a medical setting is not knowing who I am going to see, or what I may face on any given day.  What I do know is that music can be very powerful to experience in the hospital. Music reduces stress and anxiety, music can be a voice for emotional expression, music can empower, music can create a soundscape of comfort at the end of life and music can even help celebrate the small steps towards healing.  On a recent morning I saw two patients that covered the ends of the spectrum as to how music can “help”…

The first patient I saw on that particular day was a woman in her early 60s who was in the ICU recovering from a recent cardiac arrest.  I had seen her the a few days prior, providing music for stress reduction and relaxation, as she was recovering.  But now she was sitting up in a chair and smiled warmly when I peeked in to say “hello” and check in on her.  When I asked her how she was doing she said, “Much better!  I’m getting stronger and I’m ready to move on!”  She was smiling and happy and we used music to celebrate and empower.  She would soon be going home and just days before her expected outcome was not so promising.  We jubilantly sang, “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow” and “I Can See Clearly Now”, among a few others and she was smiling, singing and her face showed relief and exhilaration.  Oh how great it is to celebrate “feeling better” with someone in the hospital!  This story had a happy ending.

After after seeing her I was asked to visit with a woman and her husband in the oncology unit; a very sad case with a very different feel.  She was in her late 40s, had battled ovarian cancer several years ago and until recently had appeared to be well.  However, she suddenly had a rapid recurrence, seemingly out of the blue, as she started to feel very ill.  When she got to the hospital earlier in the week she was told that cancer was now spreading rapidly all over her body.  She was declining very fast.  This all happened within a few days.  She and her husband have 2 children.  The children had no idea of her past diagnosis as they never told them; her prognosis was good then so they felt it was not necessary.  But when she came to the hospital now, she was told that she is very far along.  There was nothing to be done.  This week changed their life in a way like no other and part of the week was telling their children of the dire situation.  She would not live much longer.  The plan now was for her to leave the hospital for “home hospice” and they now have to prepare for the inevitable.  She was very afraid of dying and worried about her children.  And her husband was not knowing how to handle this; it all happened so fast and his face showed how blindsided he has been.  I was asked to visit with her and husband while they were waiting to take her home.  She was declining rapidly and when I sat on one side of the bed, with her husband on the other side, holding her hand, he just started weeping when the music started.  It was a bit of a surreal moment really, the 3 of us there.  There was nothing to say so, I just played, softly on the guitar, playing what I thought they may be feeling inside.  The improvised music was “holding” them, supporting them and giving them a space to just be and let out emotion.  After several minutes, she looked directly into my eyes (for the first time) and as I held her gaze, without even thinking I just started humming along with the guitar playing, trying to sooth and comfort, similar to what you may do with a scared child.  For a few moments, the dark room was so quiet except for the soundscape of my light guitar playing and soft humming.  For a few moments it felt oddly peaceful.  When I finished I stood to leave and nodded “goodbye” to her husband.  He walked right over and embraced me and whispered “thank you so much” into my ear.  I felt both empty and also satisfied that I was able to help in a small way.  I was honored to have spent some time with them.

In just a few hours, music helped to celebrate life and music prepared for dying.  As the day went on, many other situations arose and it just goes to show - music can be many things to many people.  And that is why it works so well in the hospital. 

The healing power of music… 

(*the stories presented in this blog are based on accounts and experiences and are not actual accounts and experiences)

Thank you…tomorrow?

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By Ray Leone, MMT, MT-BC 

Ray is a Board-Certified music therapist who directs A Place To Be’s medical music therapy program through a partnership with Inova Health Systems.

Working as a music therapist in acute care in a medical setting allows me the opportunity to work with a wide range of people.  And part of the music therapy experience, what makes it therapeutic, along with the music, is the relationship that is established between the therapist and the person with whom we are working with.  In acute care however, I very seldom get to work with someone for more then a few sessions; and many I work with just once.  And even though we can’t establish “long-term” therapeutic relationships, we always connect, in some way, through music.

I did have the unique opportunity recently to work with a gentleman more “long-term” at the hospital.  I met Mr. R. a few months ago in the oncology unit. A young gentleman in his late 30s, he was diagnosed with various terminal cancers and when we met, he was in the hospital as a result of complications with his treatment.  Upon meeting him, I could tell that he was very ill and according to the medical records, he was rapidly declining…he was “terminal”.  Over the course of the past few months, he was in and out of the hospital several times and recently he was in for a fairly long stay as he was, unfortunately, declining rapidly.  In the recent progressing days, he was also dealing with extreme pain.  And what was unique about my work with Mr. R. was that I saw him about 15 times over the course of those months. 

Mr. R. was from the Middle East, only having been in the U.S. for a few years.  I remember when I was first met him, in his hospital room.  He spoke some English, although sometimes hard for me to understand, and I wondered how I was going to work with and help him considering our cultural differences and language barrier; how could I connect with him musically?  Admittedly, I was a bit nervous at the onset.  As I entered his room for our initial session, I remember him sitting in the middle of the bed, cross-legged, almost in a yoga-type pose.  I sat in a chair at the foot of the bed and introduced myself and why I was there.  Immediately, I knew that communicating may be somewhat of a challenge, so I thought I would rely on music.  I had some instruments to offer him, perhaps we could just start with some improvisation to break the ice.  As I started to take some out for him to perhaps choose from, he pointed to the guitar case and quietly said, “guitar”.  “Do you want to play the guitar?” I asked.  “No,” he said.  “You play.” Okay…so I took out the guitar and he was fixating on it.  Trying to get a sense of where to start, I simply said, “Is there anything in particular that you like?”  He replied, “You play what you like.”  Okay…so I started playing.  I just started improvising a bit, just to get us both comfortable and to set up a place for us to go.  I started playing what I thought he may be feeling inside.  He watched my fingers intently and after a bit, his face changed. He looked less pained and his breathing was slowing, almost matching the tempo of the music.  Then he closed his eyes and was just “in” the music.  I could tell that he was really experiencing the music in his own way.  Sitting in the bed, with his legs crossed, he almost looked as if he were moving into a trance-like state.  I intently watched him, and followed him with the music.  I played…for about 20 minutes.  When I slowed to a finish, there was silence…silence…and after what seemed like several minutes, he opened his eyes.  He looked peaceful and looked right into my eyes and said, “Thank you…come back tomorrow?”

And thus our relationship began.  

When I went back to see him, he smiled and greeted me and got into his “position” on the bed.  I played.  And, again, he was using the music, experiencing it, letting it take him on some sort of journey to “another place”.  After a few days he was discharged and, like most patients I see in acute care, I thought our work was done, we had a couple of really nice sessions and the music seemed to bring him some comfort.  But after a few weeks he was back.  And again, he welcomed me…and I played.  As I continued to see him, as is the case with many patients in the oncology unit, I could see the progression of the disease taking hold of him.  On one particular day, he was lying in his bed and he looked very uncomfortable.  I said, “How are you?”  “Pain…very bad.”  I simply sat down and played, but this time, trying to comfort him with the music, trying to work with his pain.  I used the music to work with his body, first matching what he may be feeling (dissonant chords, jagged rhythms) to show some empathy, and then slowly moving to more harmonic structures, hoping to take him with me, and move him out of the grips of the pain.  He, again, was using the music, but in a different way this time.  He seemed to find some relief, in the moment.  And as he always did, when I was through he thanked me and said, “Tomorrow?”

Over the course of the past few weeks, I saw him each day that I was at the hospital.  He was in for the long haul now, was declining rapidly; and…the pain. At times it seemed unbearable for him.  But…I played, and often he would find some relief in the music.  And always, “Thank you…tomorrow?”  I remember one particularly tough day, he would occasionally find some comfort but sometimes the pain was just too much, it would consume his entire being and he would incoherently yell out…he would show signs of delirium.  I tried to work with him, changing the music to try and give him some relief.  On this particular day, I played…for almost an hour (there were no words).  Finally…a little relief.  “Thank you…tomorrow?”

It got to a point where I knew things were coming to an end and I heard that the doctors were discussing “plans” with him about suspending treatment.  It was time to look at things differently.  I could see that he was declining and I have to admit, each morning when I got to the hospital I would immediately look at the patient list to see if he was still “here”.

Then, on a particular day when I went to the unit to see him, as I usually did I spoke with his nurse to see how he was doing. She told me that they did indeed make a new plan, they were suspending treatment going forward and he was being discharged, that afternoon, going to Hospice.  She also told me he was really not doing well at the moment; that he was really “out of it”. I went into his room.  It was quiet and dark and he was lying in bed.  Yes, he did look “out of it”.  I wondered if he would even know that I was there.  If I played…would he hear me?  Would I be able to help at all?  For one last time?  So, as I always did…I played.  He didn’t move.  I continued and I did not see any response in his body showing that he knew I, or the music, was present.  But, I continued…I played.  And in that moment, I suddenly felt an unexpected wave of emotion starting to overtake me.  This was it, after all of these weeks, all of our sessions, significantly more then any other patient I had ever worked with in the hospital, this was the final chapter.   This was going to be the last time I was going to see him.  I was battling my own emotions; this was a new feeling for me - after all of this time, this was the last time.  And…I played.  But it was a bit different.  Now, I was playing what I was feeling inside.  I needed something; perhaps some comfort for myself – some closure?  I played…and when I finally finished, I just sat in silence for a bit.  

As I slowly walked out of his room, for the last time, I paused at the doorway and looked at him.  And I whispered…“Thank you.”

The healing power of music…

(*the stories presented in this blog are based on accounts and experiences and are not actual accounts and experiences)

In the moment…

By Ray Leone, MMT, MT-BC 

Ray is a Board-Certified music therapist who directs A Place To Be’s medical music therapy program through a partnership with Inova Health Systems.

Music is an in-the-moment experience.  You hear a song and in that moment, you feel something; you may feel uplifted, melancholy, have a great memory of a special time and place, experience reminiscence for a lost friend.  Music takes you from where you are to another place.

This is one of the reasons why music can be so powerful in a medical setting, especially in the units that care for those who are very ill.  Music cannot cure in the traditional sense.  As a music therapist I cannot “fix” things.  And this was a hard concept for me to overcome when I first started visiting patients who were very ill.  I couldn’t “fix” anything.  But…I could help.  I could help, ‘in the moment’.  I could give them a reprieve, some hope, a cathartic experience to let go for a few moments, reduce anxiety, a relaxation experience, a means of expressing feelings, a connection.  Sometimes, I can just give them a moment.

On a recent day at the hospital where I provide music therapy services, I saw many patients with anxiety and pain, many who were feeling as if there was no hope.  And music appeared to help, in some way, with stress and comfort.  However, there was a rather beautiful moment when I was visiting a woman in her 80s, at the end of the day.  She is quite ill with various issues, including some pain and perhaps some psychosocial needs.  She’s been in the hospital for awhile.  When I entered her darkened room, she was lying in bed, staring at the ceiling with a rather pained look on her face.   She barely looked at me when I introduced myself and didn’t speak, although the slight eye contact we had let me know that she was aware of my presence.  I just started playing some soft music for her and then added a bit of humming and quiet singing, trying to present a comfortable soundscape for her while also addressing her pain and emotional needs.  She closed her eyes occasionally, but mostly continued to stare off.  After about 20 minutes, some of her family came to visit including her husband, who walked over and sat in a chair across the room.  They all seemed pleased to have me and the music and were all smiling and looking towards her as I concluded what I was playing.  I wasn’t sure if she was aware that they were present as she continued to stare off towards the ceiling.  I then greeted the family and asked her if she would like one more song and she subtly nodded “yes”.  Her husband asked if I knew “any Elvis” and I smiled and started playing and singing ‘Love Me Tender’.  As if on cue, she looked over at him (the first time she wasn’t staring off) and as she held his gaze…he started to cry.  But, she smiled at him and through his tears, he smiled back at her.  They continued to look and smile at each other, truly connecting with this song, in a way that was completely different then before this particular song was presented.  As I concluded, she looked at me, with a slight smile and softly said, “that was beautiful”.  Those were the first words she spoke to me and as I left, her family were all around her for a visit.  I certainly don’t know what tomorrow will bring for her, but for a moment today, a simple song helped connect her with her husband in a moment that was quite beautiful.  Today, music gave her, and her husband, a moment…

Love me tender

Love me sweet

Never let me go

You have made

My life complete

And I love you so

The healing power of music…

(*the stories presented in this blog are based on accounts and experiences and are not actual accounts and experiences)