This book will transform you through its moving stories about reaching into the world of an Alzheimer’s patient, about helping someone die a more peaceful death, and about inspiring a child with a special need to sing and dance. These compassionate stories captivate the human spirit and may bring a tear to your eye.
“Jennifer’s appearance at the entrance to the kitchen would bring instant delight to mom’s eyes and a huge beautiful smile to her face. It was the highlight of her week. Jennifer has a way of bringing joy, clarity and awareness back by drawing from the memories she discovers, tirelessly, patiently and with heartfelt kindness and then sharing them again and again and again. I also loved her sessions since mom was such a happy camper by the time she finished!” — Kathleen Sweeney
“Jenny’s therapy touched the lives of each member of our family. She taught my special needs daughter essential developmental skills, helped my father remember some dear memories that were lost, comforted my aging mother and sang at the funerals of all three. Her gift of music brought tears of joy and comfort to all of us.” — Valerie Jones
“Jennifer’s music therapy reached my mom deep down in her soul. We thought we were giving mom a gift, but it turned out to be a gift to all of us!” — Michelle Buchanan
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Read an Excerpt
When I was studying music at the University of Western Ontario, I had the opportunity to visit my friend's mother in the hospital. This was the very first time I brought music to someone in a hospital setting. I had heard of music therapy but hadn't begun my own studies in the field yet. I brought my autoharp, for I had not yet learned how to play the guitar. It was near Christmas, so I also brought my favorite Christmas songs to play.
I must admit I felt a little strange walking through the halls with this autoharp in my arms, but I was greeted with a welcoming smile when my friend's mother, Mrs. Martin, saw me enter her room. I settled beside her bed and began with one of my favorite carols, "What Child is This," based on the "Greensleeves" melody. A few moments into the song, I noticed that Mrs. Martin was crying. I felt awful. I meant to bring joy to this dear woman, and I had made her cry! I stopped after that first verse and apologized for upsetting her. She immediately responded by saying, "Oh, Jennifer, I have wanted to cry for so long but have not been able to. Your music helped the tears come out. Thank you!"
It was then I understood that some tears need to be shed. These were healing tears for Mrs. Martin, and she felt much better for having shed them. I also understood that it is important for us not to push our feelings down and ignore them, but to let them come out in tears or in words.
I was able to continue singing Christmas carols to Mrs. Martin, and I felt relieved and happy to see the smile on her face. At one point, a nurse popped her head into the room and said that everyone in the hallway was enjoying the Christmas music so much, and would I please continue. I did, and I must admit I felt an inner joy. I was doing what I was meant to do. Later that evening, I left the hospital room with an assurance in my heart. I was going to become a music therapist!
A Waltz Remembered
During the time when I was studying music education in Canada, I began a sing-along program at one of the local nursing homes. All the seniors would gather in one room to sing their old favorites with me. This was a great time for me to learn all the songs from the early 1900s, songs like "By the Light of the Silvery Moon," "I Want a Girl (Just Like the Girl that Married Dear Old Dad)," "Let Me Call You Sweetheart," and "Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit-Bag." The senior residents were my best teachers, and with many songs, I learned wonderful stories of their past lives.
Along with the singing, we also danced. The waltz was the favorite dance for this group of seniors, so each week, I asked the gentlemen to dance a waltz with me. Now one particular gentleman named John had Parkinson's, and he shook quite badly. I was afraid to ask him to dance, but one day he approached me and asked if I would dance with him. I couldn't say no, so I quickly thought of the waltz song "When I Grow Too Old to Dream." As I began singing, we began moving to the waltz step with his hand in mine.
To my surprise, John stopped his shaking. He was able to move his feet to the 1-2-3 step and not tremble. He danced the whole song fluidly, and at the end of the song, he looked to me with tears in his eyes and said, "Jennifer, that was my wife's favorite song. Thank you." That moment, seeing his tears and his smile, I felt my heart touched to the core, and now I don't hesitate to dance with one of my Parkinson's residents if he asks me. After all, it may bring back an endearing memory of dancing with his wife.
After completing my music education degree in Canada, I followed my heart and continued with graduate studies in music therapy at Michigan State University. It was during my music therapy internship that I met one of the angriest clients I have ever had. He was a boy named Paul, and he lived in an institution. This was years ago, when people with a severe mental illness were institutionalized. Paul met with me once a week for a variety of music activities. On one particular day, when I was walking him to the therapy room, Paul was punching his hand and saying, "I want to break a window. I hate this place!" Well, I knew I had to postpone my planned therapy session and deal with his anger.
When we got to the music therapy room, I found the two biggest drums I had and the two biggest mallets. I told Paul to sit down and drum exactly as I was doing. I began hitting the drum hard and saying, "I hate this place. I hate this place!" At first Paul looked up at me with big, questioning eyes as if he thought I had gone crazy or something, but then he began hitting the drum, lightly at first. As I hit louder and louder, he let go of his apprehension and began to bang his drum louder and louder. With this drumming and vocalizing of "I hate this place!" a catharsis began. After about three minutes of very loud drumming, a hint of a smile appeared on Paul's face, and then this smile grew and grew until he was laughing.
I had taken Paul's anger and displaced it on the drum instead of a window or another person. Paul left that music therapy session much differently from the way he arrived. The next day, I inquired of his counselor how Paul was after our session. He answered, "Very well. Why do you ask?" I then explained the transformation that took place within Paul.
You see, music can take our anger, our frustrations, and our hurts, and diminish them to dust, which we can then just blow away; all we are left with are the sweet sounds of music and an inner peace.
The Wedding Song
With my master's degree and internship completed, I returned to Canada and started my first private practice in Toronto, Ontario. One of my contracts was with a local hospital, in their palliative care unit. I sang to each of the palliative care patients every week. Many of the patients had friends and family visit them, but James was one of our patients who never had any visitors.
Nobody came to the hospital to see him, so I went to his room one day and asked if I could be his friend and sing to him each week. James agreed, but he told me he wanted to hear only one song, and that was his wedding song. This song meant more to James than anything else, so each week I sat at his bedside, lifted my guitar, and sang "Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum ..."
"Ave Maria" was his beloved wedding song, but it was more than special to James, for every time I sang that song from beginning to end, the memory of that entire wedding day came vividly back to him. James recalled his wife's beautiful bouquet, her lacy white dress, and the sparkle in her eyes. He remembered his dark suit, how warm the day was, how happy he was, and many more images. Recalling these details brought him pleasure and joy, and these recollections made up our conversation each week.
If I was lucky, James would talk just a little about his wife and their only son. One day I asked what happened to them, and with a deep sadness, he told me they had both passed away, leaving him alone in the world. James wanted to die peacefully, and hearing his wedding song brought him this peace. So the week that he went into a coma, I continued to sit at his bedside and sing his beloved "Ave Maria." Maybe, even in his coma, he relived his wedding day once more.
All of my senior clients love to reminisce. The memories of their past lives are so important to them. They make up the fabric of who they truly are. So when I meet a senior client for the first time, I ask them to share a memory or two with me.
This is what I did when I met Ellen. On my first visit, the two of us sat down at her kitchen table, and we went through my songbook. Ellen picked out her favorites, and with each song, she had a little story to tell. "Johnny's So Long at the Fair" brought on a story about her husband because his name was Johnny. The song "When You Wore a Tulip" brought back memories of Ellen's garden full of springtime flowers. "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" reminded her of watching her dad play baseball on a warm summer night. She also recalled the times she was not allowed to go. When I asked her why not, she wrinkled her nose up and said, "Mother made me stay home and peel potatoes!" I laughed when she recalled that memory. "School Days" reminded Ellen of her elementary school years. Each time we sang that song, she liked to tell me, "You know, mother made us go to an all-girls school."
I loved hearing Ellen's stories as much as she loved telling them. After a year of therapy visits, I thought I'd heard all of them, but one afternoon, she surprised me with a new one. On this particular day in June, I was singing love songs. After I sang, "Let Me Call You Sweetheart," I asked her, "Who was your sweetheart, Ellen? Was it Johnny?"
She surprised me with her reply. "Oh no, it wasn't Johnny! It was Ozy!"
"Who was Ozy?" I asked, and Ellen, with a twinkle in her eye, said, "He was a boy I met after school!"
In the second year of my therapy visits, Ellen's health declined. She had more days of confusion and sadness. On Ellen's sad days, when she was anxious and worried, I sat with her and sang the songs that cheered her, the ones that brought back all her fond memories. On one occasion, I noticed Ellen looked troubled. I asked her what she was thinking about, and she replied, "I haven't seen my husband in a very long time."
I knew Johnny had died many years earlier, but I didn't say that out loud. Instead, I took her hand and asked very gently, "Is he in heaven, Ellen?"
She looked at me with big eyes and quickly said, "Well I hope so!" We both laughed, and after that, Ellen's mood changed. She was much happier, and so we carried on singing and reminiscing.
I continued to sing to Ellen until the last days of her life. Her strength had faded, so I needed to speak her memories aloud for her. The songs we had sung as duets for two years were now sung solo. What didn't fade in Ellen was the twinkle in her eye.
The Universal Language
In my work as a music therapist, I have come across a few occasions when my client could not speak any English. But here's the beauty of music: it transcends all language barriers. It is the universal language. "Amazing Grace" has the same melody whether you are singing it in Germany, Italy, or France. If I can't speak the language of my clients, then I can still sing to them.
One of my palliative care clients named Sue couldn't speak English, and she didn't have family close by to visit her, so she was often lonely. I came into her room one day with my guitar, hoping that I could make contact with her through the music. Before I began to sing, I looked directly at her and smiled. Then I lifted up my guitar and started singing song after song. I first tried folk songs, then popular songs, and then contemporary religious songs. As soon as I began singing "Kumbaya, my Lord, Kumbaya," her eyes lit up. I found a connection. She was so excited to hear something she knew that she clapped her hands and laughed. I laughed too and then made a gesture with my hands to show her I wanted her to sing along with me. I sang in English, and she sang in her own native language. It was a bilingual duet of "Kumbaya," and it left a big smile on both our faces. After discovering that Sue liked this style of music, I was able to find a few other songs that she recognized: "Do Lord, O Do Lord" and "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands." I made sure I visited Sue each week. She was always eager to hear her favorite songs, especially "Kumbaya." I didn't speak the language of Sue's mind, but I did speak the language of her heart.
I Love You, You Love Me
As a music therapist in palliative care, it is important that I address the families' needs as well as the patients'. I remember one family I worked with that had two very young girls. When I visited their dad, who was dying, these two children were often playing and jumping around the room while their mom was sitting on the chair beside her husband's bed. Most days, she looked worn and sad.
I noticed over a period of a few visits that no one ever spoke words of love out loud to Dad. I also knew he was not going to live for many more weeks. I felt that it was important for the dad and the children, as well as Mom, to hear the words "I love you," so one day I gathered the children around me and asked them to sing a special song with me. I used the familiar Barney song, which all the children knew at that time, with the traditional "This Old Man" melody. I began to sing quietly, "I love you, you love me, we're a happy family," and then the girls joined in, "with a great big hug and a kiss from me to you. Won't you say you love me too?"
At the end of that song, the two girls gave their dad a big kiss and a hug, leaving him with a wonderful smile on his face. Mom too had a smile on her face and a few tears in her eyes. The family needed to hear these comforting words of love, and I used a song to initiate it. I'm certain this is a memory the mom will cherish for the rest of her life — the memory of hearing her children express their love to their dad for what could have been the very last time.
When Words Fail Us
Robert loved his sister, June, and he wanted to make her dying days more peaceful through music. He asked me to come each week to sing to her and her family. June was able to speak for only my first few visits, and after that, she went into a coma. Since hearing is the last sense to go, I continued to sing to her. The music touched the hearts of her family, especially her children and husband, Andrew.
One day when Andrew came without his children, he asked if I would sing "Annie's Song" to June. The lyrics of this song talk of love. This was one way Andrew could tell his wife he loved her. I remember clearly what happened when I sang that song. I stood back and began, "You fill up my senses like a night in the forest, like the mountains in springtime, like a walk in the rain." While I sang, Andrew leaned over and caressed June's hair. I created a special and intimate moment for husband and wife, so special that I felt as if I were intruding on something private, just for them alone.
On my next visit with June, a visitor named Anna arrived with flowers. Once she placed the flowers in a vase, she sat in a chair beside June and didn't say anything. There was an awkward silence until I invited her to sing "Edelweiss" with me. Anna immediately looked relieved to have something to do, and she knew and loved that particular song. She came right beside me as I started to play my guitar, and she followed along with the lyrics: "Edelweiss, Edelweiss, every morning you greet me. Small and white, clean and bright, you look happy to meet me." Again, the lyrics of the song spoke for this friend. She didn't have to find the right words to say when the song said it for her.
Words of love, words of friendship, were lost in the human's mouth but found in a song. Once sung, they were expressed more beautifully. I was the messenger for husband and friend. I sang the words they could not form.
Jackson's preschool teacher saw how music had a positive influence on him, so when his occupational therapy stopped, she recommended music therapy to his mother, Tami. Tami also found music to be effective when teaching Jackson his numbers and letters at home, so she was eager to try this music therapy with me. We set up his goals, and then I wrote a session plan where I included all of Jackson's favorite songs. To my surprise, Tami told me one of Jackson's favorite melodies was Beethoven's "Ode to Joy." Tami said she played it often at home, so he had grown quite attached to it. In fact, the "Ode to Joy" melody was able to calm Jackson any time he became upset.
I made sure to bring my recorder to each therapy session so I could play that calming melody. Jackson often pointed to the recorder when making a choice on what he wanted to do next. We began a routine where I would play part of the melody on the recorder and then stop, and Jackson would finish by humming the rest of the notes. Now, Jackson was only four at the time, so that was very impressive! Jackson's other favorite melody was "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." I'd start that song on my recorder and, similarly, Jackson would hum the notes I left off. He was always right on key.
One day in class when I arrived to do the weekly music circle, Jackson was crying. Something upset him, and his cries turned to screams. The children and I had just sat down for music time on the rug, and I remember they looked to me questioningly, like, "What should we do?" Instead of singing my hello song, I began humming the "Ode to Joy" melody quite loudly. Some of the children tried to hum along. I realized they could help me, so I stopped humming and told the children, "We can help Jackson! Follow me and sing 'lah lah lah lah' on this song he loves." All fifteen children began singing "lah lah lah lah" with me, some on the melody, and some not. But the "Ode to Joy" theme was there, and Jackson heard it and stopped crying! He looked quite surprised, and I might even say delighted, to hear that comforting melody coming from his friends.
I was so proud of the children. Together we used music to help their fellow student. Singing seemed to work like magic in changing Jackson's cries to smiles.
Excerpted from "Touching Lives, One Song at a Time"
Copyright © 2017 Jennifer Jonas.
Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Healing Tears, 1,
A Waltz Remembered, 5,
The Wedding Song, 13,
The Universal Language, 23,
I Love You, You Love Me, 27,
When Words Fail Us, 31,
Calming Jackson, 35,
At Peace, 41,
Ben and Me, 45,
I'll Fly Away, 49,
Child of Light, 53,
Musical Midwife, 59,
Take My Hand, Precious Lord, 63,
The Power of Music to Reach Within, 79,
Doris Gives Hope, 85,
Hope with a Musical Sound, 89,
A Musical Redirection, 95,
Extra Special, 99,
Edith's World, 105,
Unmissed Opportunities, 109,
Pure Joy!, 113,
In Closing, 119,
About the Author, 123,