It was an insightful question, a version of which I had considered after hundreds of visits to the rooms of severely-ill children and their caregivers: In our service to others, can we ever know if we have made a difference?
I bring live music that will hopefully encourage, comfort, or distract to these little ones. I have written about some of the more amazing responses I have witnessed in my book titled Musical Hugs. I often leave their rooms uncertain about whether the visit had an impact. I realize it is unfair to expect to see the amazing power of a single song at each visit. But, I always hope to witness it again, as if for the first time.
I have come to view this as a matter of faith – the belief in things not seen.
Once I leave a patient’s room after sharing a song, I am not privy to what follows. I learned to trust that something good came out of the single song I provided even when there was no clear feedback. It helps me focus on the next visit. To look forward to what sonic miracle may await there.
So when the question was raised at the workshop I was attending, it felt like a familiar one. It went to the crux of my occasional doubts about this tricky business of serving others.
I felt I had some useful perspective to share with the fifty or so adults attending the session. I described my belief that I didn’t need to witness the healing power of music every time to believe in its ability to help these children and their caregivers.
My comments seemed to resonate with most of the adults attending the session.
What Music Offered John
But then April stood and offered a view from the other side of the song. She shared the story of her nine year old son’s recovery from multiple complex facial-cranial surgeries. At age four, following the sixth of his thirteen painful procedures, John’s head and eyes were heavily swollen. Unable to see, John needed someone to be by his side at all times, physically touching him. It was the only thing that helped to ease his pain and anxiety, which must have been immense.
On the third day after that surgery, my friends Jim Newton and Paul G. Hill of KidLinks (info@TheKidLinks.org) arrived in John’s room. They provided music for him. In their middle of the song, John let go of his mother’s hand. Their music offered John emotional comfort in a new and compelling way, as only music can.
I imagine Jim and Paul may have noticed John move his hand away from his mother’s during their song. But there was no way for them to understand its significance. How could they? Our presence as therapeutic musicians arrives out of context and at unexpected moments. Our music is shared and experienced in the “now” with no sense for the before or after.
April’s story taught me that signs of the healing power of music are presented to me all the time. They may appear in the form of responses I am unable to interpret. John’s act of moving his hand away from his mother’s was nothing unusual or noteworthy to a stranger. But for April, who had been by her son’s side for days, it was a powerful moment made possible by the power of a single song.
Rethink My Approach to “Musical Hugs” Writing
April’s comments also forced me to rethink my approach to “musical hugs” in my writing. I realized I had been sharing stories of the healing power of music from the singular perspective of a music provider to hospitalized children.
I wondered how the experiences of others from a wide range of vantage points could expand my understanding of the topic. So, going forward, I will be sharing personal stories from a wide range of perspectives. A sort of 360 degree view of therapeutic music. My hope is these stories will illuminate and illustrate the countless ways music intersects with human needs and makes a positive difference.