Music Therapy

“Hi… Dom here…’Music therapy’ has always fascinated me. You know how music can turn you from been in a bad mood to a good mood, or bring back memories from the past, make you cry? It seems to be able to reach parts of he brain that everyday life can’t reach. It always brought a smile to my face when I was performing at a wedding and a Great Grandmother would get up and dance… suddenly she would seem 30 years younger, smiling and enjoying the music. Maybe it was igniting memories from her youth, or maybe some unexplainable cognitive reason made her want to dance. Whatever the reason, music therapy must be one of the oldest and most powerful therapies known to man! Hope you enjoy this blog”

Music is a therapy. It is a communication far more powerful than words, far more immediate, far more efficient.-Yehudi Menuhin

‘You’ve got that face on again’! 
It’s been often pointed out to me that ‘that face’ is a particular trance-like expression I adopt when I’m fully engrossed in playing my guitar, particularly when learning a new song. I know what people mean. I call it being ‘in the zone’, where all of your immediate surroundings dissolve into another plain of consciousness. You can start strumming at mid-afternoon and next thing you know it’s dark and your belly’s rumbling, reminding you that it’s time to tend to the trivialities of the material world.

I was fortunate enough to be bitten by the music bug at the age of 9 and I’ve always appreciated the gift of being able to play music. When I say ‘gift’, I don’t mean that I was bestowed some supernatural power or musical genius. The ‘gift’ is the ability to be able to communicate through the medium of music and being a shy, socially-awkward only child, this gift really did change the course of my life for the better.
The reasons people take up a musical instrument can be many-fold. You could be hit by an epiphanic moment and dedicate your entire life to striving to become a virtuoso in your field of music. You may take it up because your best mate’s in a band and they’re struggling to find a bass player, or you may simply have spare time in which you wish to fill creatively. Mine was a mixture of all of the above. I never became a virtuoso player, but I did become a bass player and more recently, a ukulele player.

Shelley Over 60s Ukulele Group

In the past 5 years I have run a ukulele group aimed at people over the age of 60. Many are retirees. The group includes a 50/50 split of men and women from all walks of life, all having the shared love of playing these small four-stringed instruments. I always stress to any newcomers to the group that the emphasis isn’t on becoming the best players or the best group on the planet; it’s about fun, enjoyment and communication. 
One of our players, a retired nurse called Sylvia, once remarked, ‘I love coming to our Monday sessions…it sets me up for the week’. This idea that playing music can have health benefits, both physical and mental, has been widely recognised by health experts. 
In particular our group has certainly been a therapeutic tool for people with both mental and physical issues. One gentleman called Leonard started playing at our group when he was 87 years young, after he heard us on a local radio station. He had become depressed after his wife had passed away a few years earlier and his daughter encouraged him to join the group.

Leonard Metcalfe, one of my more senior students

Within weeks of Leonard joining the group he had learned all the fundamentals of the instrument and new many songs. Now, at the age of 91, Leonard joins us at many of the care home concerts we perform at.
Another member of our group, Brian, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease two years ago. His doctor insisted he carried on playing the ukulele as it would beneficial in his dealing with his symptoms. Not only has it helped him cope with his tremors, but Brian has also said that playing music lifts his spirits. 
As I previously mentioned, not only do we perform regularly in care homes for the elderly, but also schools for children with learning difficulties. Even though you’re performing to two opposite ends of the age spectrum the power of communication music brings works in exactly the same way. We have witnessed the eyes of residents with dementia light up upon hearing their favourite song, some joining in, word perfect. We have experienced the joy of playing concerts for severely mentally handicapped children whereby a whole frenzy of excitement takes over the room and for an hour it felt like we were The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show! One little boy recently joined us on stage at a Christmas concert to sing ‘Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer, which he did with real, genuine enthusiasm. It was only after the concert that the Headteacher remarked that the little boy had never spoken a word since he had started at the school.

As the years progress so does ones ambitions. Gone are the days of striving to make it big-time in a rock band, playing to hoards of screaming fans. However, the desire to communicate, entertain, educate and even medicate through this wonderful gift of music will certainly last with me for a lifetime. 

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