Sometime in the early 1970s, a couple of “Wild Oats” bandmates of mine (Ron LeGrand – banjo; Mel Durham – bass) and I decided that it might be fun to play music for some of the folks living in Orange County CA convalescent homes. I was in my early 20s, Ron was in his mid-30s, and Mel was in his mid-50s. Of course, Ron and I felt obliged to tease Mel about the risk he’d be taking — what if they wouldn’t let him leave? The three of us also joked privately about the fact that we’d be playing for a captive audience that couldn’t escape the banjo. Those tasteless jokes aren’t so funny anymore. I’m 75, and both Ron and Mel have since passed on.
Anyway, after about three years of playing those unpaid “gigs” nearly every Sunday afternoon, the three of us realized how much fun they were, not only to us but to the “old folks” as well. One particular Sunday, as we had just finished our set, a sweet old lady rolled up in her wheelchair and said she had something to tell me. It went something like this: “Son, I remember you from when you were here two years ago. I was feeling pretty lonely and missing my family, and you sang that song about being on your Grandma’s farm and sleeping in her great big feather bed. I did that too.” Both of us had tears in our eyes. She followed that with “Now, whenever I feel old and sad about not having any family left, I just replay that song in my head. It always makes me feel better.” What a wonderful thing the music had done. A mere song had been her go-to elixir for two years! From that moment on I understood that music is therapy. It can make folks feel better — both emotionally and even physically.
A few weeks ago some new friends of ours asked if they could stop by for a visit. My wife Barbara and I were delighted to welcome Jonathan, his wife Robin, and her 96-year-old mother, Rhoda, into our home a few days later. Jonathan and Robin asked to see the upstairs master closet. Wisely, Rhoda begged off because of the stairs. I thought she might be tired too, and I was happy to stay put and keep her company. When we were “alone at last”, I asked if I could sing her a song. With a wry grin, my new 96-year-old friend said, “Sure”. So I grabbed a guitar, pulled up a chair, and kicked off “My Blue Heaven” (Gene Austin, 1927). At first, Rhoda grinned from ear to ear, then she began to shuffle her feet in time with the music, then she began clowning around, moving her elbows up and down like a duck, and when I got to the next chorus, Rhoda sang with me. What a joyous moment!
After 60 years of playing the guitar and singing, I had finally realized how therapeutic music can be. And now I’m ready to “share the wealth.” If any of this little blurb has piqued your interest in the therapeutic value of music, get a copy of The Music Therapy Studio: Empowering the Soul’s Truth, by Rick Soshensky (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2021). Carve out some time for contemplation, pair it with the right music (perhaps the Bach Unaccompanied Cello Suites by Edgar Meyer), and let the resulting therapeutic vibe empower your inner core.