Monday, March 02, 2009

Saving Souls

I had an amazing time yesterday at the Concert for Cline.  Incredible performances by (I'm writing these in no particular order):
 Lisa Otey (daughter of Cline and an amazing musician)
 Diane Van Deurzen (Lisa's wonderful partner and an incredible vocalist)
David Otey (who has no website, ahem!)(son of Cline, an excellent trombone player and vocalist) 
Gay Otey (former wife of Cline, an exquisite pianist)
John Baker (who still teaches choir at Rex Putnam, performed The Lord's Prayer!!) 
Lavonna Zeller (if you're in Portland, OR go see her at Tony Starlight's this Thursday!) 
and here my swiss cheese memory starts to fail me ... Pat? who played Rachmaninoff (she said she'd see if she could 'get through it' --wow, if I could get through it like that, I'd be one proud camper) and three wonderful women from Marylhurst's music therapy program, one of who played a fun jig on violin accompanied by guitar.  If anyone who was there is reading this, please comment on anyone I've missed or details like names and such.  

And then there was me, little ol' me who read my words about Cline W. Otey Jr.  Although at times I felt like I had no business on that stage, everyone was so kind and said beautiful things about my writing.  Reading amid that much talent collected in one place, I felt lucky just to be there.  Yep, that's me, Guy, just excited to be on the show.  (Reference, Galaxy Quest, one of the best movies of all time for this long-time fan of things SF/F.)

But enough about me, I want to write about these people and this program.  Actually, I take that back.  There isn't room to describe the performers adequately.  I may try in future posts.  Today I want to discuss the music therapy program.

What is music therapy, anyway?  It really is therapy.  Music helps people heal faster, or if they can't heal, it helps them cope.  Kids with disabilities can express themselves, and they learn more and more quickly.  People with pain can escape into music for a while.  People with emotional problems can dig deep or let go through music.  People who can't connect in any other way, can sometimes connect through music.  I heard part of a story about a person who was deaf and sick enough to be cut off from most human contact, but could feel the vibrations of music and responded to it.  Sometimes that's the key to saving a life.  And if a life can't be saved, then think about how music can battle against despair, not just for the sick but for everyone who wants to do so much for the desperately ill, for the family and friends whose reserves run lower and lower as illnesses stretch on and on. 

As I learned about the impact music can make in medicine, I realized these people were doing more than saving lives by assisting healing through music.  They're quite literally saving souls.  

There's no adequate scale to measure the impact on a three year old child with leukemia who can strum a guitar and create something beautiful, something that ripples through the world.  That child's response to making something real and precious when every other part of that child's world is disassembling can have no price.  It does have a cost, though, and so awareness is needed to help promote and develop music therapy programs.  Compared to drugs and specialized equipment and doctors with extensive and expensive ongoing educations and hospital overhead, music therapy is, as they say, cheap insurance.  People not only don't realize its importance, but don't know it's available to ask for.

Currently in my area music therapy services are provided by a non-profit organization.  For those of us involved in non or not-for-profits, we know this is a blessing and a curse.  You get great enthusiasm, but by their natures these kind of programs are subject to whim and climate and often can't afford to provide as much service (or advertising) as they would want to.  Which means music therapy is relatively unknown, and can be hard to get even if you do know about it.  Programs like the ones at Marylhurst are then caught between a rock and a hard place.  Do you promote the services of your graduates and find jobs for your graduating students who then compete against a very worthy non-profit, or do you wait for a position to open within the non-profit, which may or may not pay--in which case, does that mean there will be few or no full-time paid music therapists in the area?  At the moment, one student has addressed this situation by choosing to move out of our area on graduation to develop a program in another state that doesn't have a non-profit.  I would much rather she stay here, in case I need her, or my son, or my daughter ... my DH probably would pass on the music therapy, but you never know.  I don't think the non-profit can afford to keep her full time, though.  I think they do as much as they can with the monies they have.

So music therapy is stuck.  Spread the word about music therapy.  If you think you may have a need for music therapy, investigate it, ask for it--demand for these services will help get music therapy unstuck, whether it's in a non-profit or integrated situation.

Remember the hospice situation?  I find a lot of parallels between hospice services and music therapy.  It seems like music therapy is where hospice used to be.

David Otey had a good friend visiting from Brazil, a doctor with (fortunately for me) beautiful English language skills.  She said that doctors and nurses play music for their patients in Brazil.  We don't have many of those kinds of doctors and nurses here.  We need music therapists.  Our ancestors know better than we do in some ways.  They understood the power of music better than many of us understand it today.  Because it's so commonplace, and because in the United States it seems like it's all about record sales and times played on the radio, music has been marginalized as mere entertainment.  It's so much more than that.  Give a child a drum sometime.  See what happens.

Every year we hold a party called the August Babies Birthday Bash for all our friends and family born in August and everyone who knows them (or knows someone who knows them.  It's a big, fun party.)  The favorite part of many an August Baby is the bardic circle and passing around the Lobster of Shame.  When you get the lobster, you tell a joke, sing a song, tell a story, or you have to dance with the Lobster of Shame.  (It plays music while you do it, too.  It's really  ... words fail me.)  Sometimes people bring musical instruments and then the belly dancing happens, or we bring down a boom box to dance to drum-heavy songs.  The connection is magical.  I seldom sing in public, but I sing at most ABBBs.  

When my father lay dying, one of the things I got for him was a music video, but not just any music video.  It had the most amazing music, and images from all over the world of waterfalls and incredible canyons and mountains and skies that are so beautiful they make you cry.  He watched that video hundreds of times.  It took him everywhere he might want to go, but couldn't, because his body was failing.  As an artist and a musician, I'm sure he would have played and painted those things for himself, but brain cancer stole that from him.  The efforts of many musicians and photographers gave a little of that beauty back to him.

Music can be many things.  It can be pure entertainment, but it can also be so much more.  Musicians don't always understand the power they have, or some do and disdain or ignore it.  But many musicians do understand, do respect, and absolutely love not just their own music but a diversity of music from all over the world.  It's a primal energy that hasn't fit very well with science until relatively recently in our history.  I believe we're overdue in recognizing the true, primal, potent value of music once again.  Support music therapy.  There's many ways to support it, but perhaps the most important one is to ask for it.


The Moody Minstrel said...

I'm sorry I wasn't able to be there even if I wasn't one of Cline's students (though I knew Lisa fairly well).

Still, hearing about how all these former fellow Putnam A-Choir members went on to become world-class musicians is suddenly leaving me feeling very humbled and my ego feeling very bruised...

Kami said...

Hey, I consider you world class! It would have been really wonderful if you could have been there. Maybe in a future year, since it seems we're all determined that this can't be just a one time thing.

I wish you did get a chance to get instruction from Cline. I think you would have had a lot of fun, and probably learned a heck of a lot more than I did. I was a lazy student.