Brad Tata was in the Angela Hospice Care Center when he randomly picked a spiritual hymn to play for a patient and her family. Once he started playing the notes, he knew he had done something – not sure if it had been good or bad – given the family’s reactions and looks they shared.
It turned out that hymn he played had been her favorite hymn, one the family constantly heard her singing in the morning while she was making breakfast.
“It was just like this serendipitous moment,” said Brad, Angela Hospice Music Therapist. “Maybe the patient was with me, guiding what I was doing, or sheer luck. But we were able to have that space and open conversation with a family.”
The power of music, played by Brad and fellow music therapist Heather Dean in the Angela Hospice Care Center and home care, has the ability to affect not only the family, but the patient as well, providing a gift to them both.
And it’s not just a form of entertainment; music therapy is much more than meets the ears.
“It’s more than just comfort, measures of relaxation,” Heather said. “There’s a scientific part too, especially for pain management and anxiety… there’s real evidence for music therapists helping with symptom management with pain and anxiety.”
Brad and Heather have both seen it happen too, watching as a patient becomes less agitated when they play. With each patient they personalize their approach, whether that be the artist they’re playing, or the volume at which they play and sing. While some patients do better with just humming, others prefer full singing and guitar.
Music has the ability to ignite deep embedded memories as well, bringing patients back to a moment in time from their life through music.
Sometimes, patients who seem unable to speak suddenly begin to sing full segments of songs with Brad or Heather, much to the surprise of their loved ones.
“Suddenly, something as innocuous as me playing a guitar, they’re able to sing and engage and be there with you. It’s really gratifying,” Brad said.
Heather and Brad even find themselves learning songs in a variety of languages when a song is important to the family. Singing and learning a song can be something Heather and Brad do together with their patients, giving everyone a learning experience, even at the end of life.
“I’ve been at the bedside when people have passed… and it’s a very powerful experience, and a great honor, that you were the last person to not only speak to this person, but to offer music as the last sounds that they heard, that’s incredible,” Heather said.