The geriatric smell of urine permeated the small, dimly-lit room. The lounge was anything but comfortable – – every possible space was crammed with wheelchairs, walkers, and medical equipment. The residents had that glazed-over look resulting from too many hours spent watching “Wheel of Fortune” and “Bonanza” reruns. They were skeptical to say the least, and several powder-haired women had already fallen a sleep in their seats. I gave the pitch and the carolers began to sing.
I believe in the healing power of music. I truly believe that it can be a catalyst for physical and cognitive recovery. This Christmas vacation I visited six hospitals and nursing homes with a group of graduates from my high school choral program. We often sing in local neighborhoods for fun, but this year we really wanted to do something a little more, shall we say, selfless and purposeful. My personal history includes a considerable amount of time spent in hospitals and rehabilitation units, so I know how lonely and depressing it can be. So we did it! We got together and arranged to carol at various institutions in out community.
As we prepared to enter the first nursing home, my heart was racing with excitement. I was expecting a mixed response from our audience. I mustered all the enthusiasm and holiday cheer I could and introduced the group and our first carol to the residents. I was absolutely dumb-struck by the impact the familiar music had upon them. Simple carols such as “O Come all Ye Faithful” and “Jingle Bells” were capable of jogging someone’s memory, emotionally bringing them to a time and place where they were much happier. Many of the aged residents sang along in their wise, crackled voices.
I tend to oversimplify and revere an activity like Christmas caroling as “just singing.” What I didn’t realize was how powerful and meaningful this simple activity could be. When we had finished our set of carols, eighty-six year-old Mrs. Thiele shakily rose from her seat with tears streaming from her eyes and told my fellow carolers and I just how blessed and fortunate we were to be young and have music at our disposal. She challenged us to live our lives meaningfully, stay away from drugs, and to keep our family and loved ones close.
I believe that music has the ability to become a catalyst for powerful healing. Research has shown that music can physically heal people. The Institute for Music and Neurological Function has advanced this research by conducting studies that have shown music’s power to help retrieve lost and compromised function. Music can also provide an outlet of expression for patients with physical and emotional disabilities.
When I set out to carol, I never imagined the effect it would have on the people we sang for. Not only did it positively affect morale and hopefully brighten the holidays, but music proved to be a therapeutic experience for all parties involved.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.