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Stories from the hospital setting

CNY Music Therapy LLC contracts with St Joseph’s health hospital in Syracuse NY to provide music therapy in various sections of the hospital. One program is described above (see Music and Dementia) and our other work is as varied as being present with a family at the end of the life of their loved one at age 90 to supporting a mom-to-be who is anxiously confined to bed-rest with preeclampsia, carrying a baby of 28 weeks; and all the spectrum of life in between! 


Music as ritual can offer emotional support and necessary connection for all impacted by the journey of passing from life to death: 

There is legacy work that can be facilitated through writing a song, as was the case for June: She was facing a decision about continuing with dialysis treatment that was increasing in frequency to keep it effective, or stopping it and preparing to say goodbye. She found a way to explore and express her feelings through writing a song with the music therapist, and she was so helped by it that she wanted it recorded and played at the start of her family meeting that was set to discuss her future - in her words, “I think it will cut through the bullshit and all that!”

(See ‘The Choice’ - June’s song below)


For the final few hours or minutes of passing, music can provide solace:

There have been a number of family situations in the hospital, where either family or patient have requested music and  chosen a song that holds meaning for the patient. This helps everyone to gather together and grieve. The music therapist will play it live at the bedside and sometimes the family want to join together in singing to reach across the isolating and frightening journey that loss can hold for us all and to find comfort in a shared experience of vulnerability and becoming fully present in that moment. Each has a unique experience, but they are also connected, which is the gift of transcendence that music can offer.


Music and the ‘transcendent moment’ (something beyond the physical limits of now) can be experienced in the most unlikely places: the behavioral health unit:

The unit for mental health holds a weekly music therapy group. Every week there are new participants who come with a range of musical expertise (from zero to professional) and a range of emotional needs.

I hold the space for a participatory, music-making session where the experience is new and uniquely shared between the participants every time. More often than not I encounter an experience along with the other group members that is more than the sum of the parts. We are a few people with just a set of random percussion instruments and our voices, and yet the connection and validation of each person’s contribution offers a resilient and beautiful moment of peace/hope/rest/energy/surprise/fun (the feedback list goes on and on!) for the participants. Something happens in the space between us and the space between the notes and the possibility of something new for each member filters through the session.


Music therapy on the mother and baby unit:

Music approaches for the pre-and post-natal experience are enriching and wide-ranging. It may be the specialist approach of matching sounds of the womb for a premature baby in their incubator, bringing the focus of playing music to the baby in the womb and through the birthing process, using music sessions to support a pre-birth or post-birth group, and the list can go on and on! 

Maddy requested music therapy as she waited it out on the unit, getting monitored and checked daily to delay the birthdate and give more growing and developing time for baby in the womb. She was in danger with preeclampsia and was in emotional trauma due to having lost babies through miscarriage and a still-born birth. Her music therapy sessions were framed around focus on deep breathing and moving this into speaking and then singing to connect with baby. The other part of the session was her just singing songs together with the therapist, and then also with her wife as she joined the session. The day the C-section was booked, Maddy was able to de-escalate her fears as we sang together and used the music to lean into hope together. We celebrated baby’s safe arrival in song together a few days later as Maddy expressed how this music experience had given her the strength she needed. 


Music therapy during medical procedures:

Jane was a long-stay patient due to a chronic condition with medical complications and some resulting wounds that were slow to heal. These wounds needed regular procedures to monitor the healing which were painful and traumatic for Jane. After some music therapy sessions where she shared her music preferences with me, Jane asked me to be present during one of these procedures. The medical staff worked on a wound on her body as she held my gaze and mouthed along the words as I sang her chosen song, holding her into the music focus that was minimizing her intense pain and anxieties. The nurse was crying by the end of the procedure and Jane was able to remain calm, preserve her dignity and experience a deep emotional containment in the music.


Music therapy for motivation:

Joe was an inpatient for a few months due to continual set-backs in his condition. Our music sessions began with sharing musical preferences and music stories, moved into music-making on various percussion instruments and listening to music together, then finally they became the motivation that Joe needed to gather his courage to get him back on his feet after many weeks bedridden. We made a deal that if Joe brought in his instrument, then we would play duets with my cello. He would need to sit up to play and this was both painful and terrifying for Joe, but something happened every time that enabled him to reach out of that fear and take hold of his instrument. Then his muscle memory from years of playing the instrument pulled him up into better posture and he maintained this position to play through music and give direction to the session for up to 30 minutes. We used this approach as a co-treatment program between Music Therapy, Physical therapy and Occupational therapy, where they ensured his safety and helped with physical support as Joe exercised his tired muscles in this way twice a week and turned the huge corner towards rehabilitation and his journey back to home life. Joe’s parting gesture was to arrange a concert performance of our music in the side room of his unit, where staff and patients were thrilled to celebrate this landmark with him.

It is said that music provides the soundtrack to our lives and music therapy invites us to find that music to sustain and nurture us as we face our most challenging moments.



THE CHOICE


(CHORUS) Life or death comes to us all

Comes wherever it wants to be

Life or death comes to us all

Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have to fall?

So here we go away and away

Away and away and away we go

Going wherever we want

So we learn the things to know

And we tidy up our show

And get ready, ready to go and go and go…

(CHORUS) Life or death….

And we want to give to you

Love and light and mission true

So to run beneath the sky

God’s joy to all

I hope I can fly

(& I hope it’s not raining!)

(CHORUS) Life or death ….

So here we are ready to show

Everything that we know

Be it good, be it bad

We are all here in our head

The flowers, the plants, the trees all agree

We must be true, we must be free…free…free…

And we want to give to you

Love and light and mission true

So to run beneath the sky

God’s joy to all

I hope I can fly

(& I hope it’s not raining!)

(CHORUS) Life or death comes to us all

Comes wherever it wants to be

Life or death comes to us all

Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have to fall?



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