Giving Back: Music as a Healing Entity

Mike Lawson • • June 8, 2018

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Every year I do a tour of Southern Illinois nursing homes called “Operation Give Hope.” When I see the looks in the eyes of the audience members that I perform for, I immediately am reminded “THIS IS why I do music.”

My purpose for writing this article is to inspire you to encourage your students to use their talents to help the sick and the elderly. It has been the single most rewarding aspect of my music career. Awards and accolades will collect dust while using music as a therapeutic healing tool is absolutely amazing. I encourage your students to pursue collegiate studies in music therapy, even if it’s just one course.

For me personally, the marimba in general has a lot of healing qualities. It is lush and soothing to the soul, yet is also is an instrument that can be energetic and uplifting. It is so unique and earthy that it tends to capture the most primitive elements of the human race. I have found that people can connect to the instrument in ways that awaken the dormant entities of their souls that have been buried by physical illness. But every instrument can connect with sick people in different ways, only some instruments are more soothing to some people than others. All of your students have unique talents and instruments that can reach people in extraordinary and different ways. The world needs more young people using their talents to help provide some healing power to the sick, or at least provide them with some relief and comfort as well as lifting their spirits.

Two years ago, I performed at a nursing home in Jonesboro, Illinois. I will never forget the looks on the faces of the residents when I walked in. This particular home had a lot of elderly people with dementia. I was getting a combination of blank stares and curious looks as I set up my instrument. It was such an amazing experience because the atmosphere was extremely quiet and depressing at first, but by the time I finished performing, the place was electric. I felt so much spiritual healing in that short 45-minute concert. At the time when I performed at this place, I was going through a rough period. So, the amazing part about this performance was that the spiritual healing that I felt going out to the residents was also given back to me by their energy. It was a mutual interaction of positive musical energy. One of the nurses said to me “Before you came here today, it was like an episode of the Walking Dead. After you left, it was like a resurrection occurred!”

Never underestimate the power of music! The experience of performing for people with illnesses can be just as melancholy, as it is rewarding. I would like to share more of a personal story from these experiences.

There is a woman who particularly appreciates my music at one of the homes I perform at in Carbondale, Illinois. We would talk, and she would tell me about her life, her career, and her children. She had shared details with me that her children had left her there and that they never visit her, as a tear rolled down from her eye. She said to me “All I have to look forward to is you coming to play here every year.”

Year after year, whenever I would show up to play, she would be so happy to see me, and she would give me a hug when I walked in. I returned to the home in 2017. When I walked in with my percussion equipment, she was in a wheelchair shaking very badly, with tears running down her eyes, not able to speak. I honestly had to walk outside for a little while and get myself together because it was very emotionally overwhelming. This, my friends and colleagues, is why we really play music. And experiences like the one I just mentioned are exactly why we need to bring our music to the sick and the suffering.

One of the greatest inspirations of my entire music career is Scott Stewart, the former director of the Madison Scouts Drum and Bugle Corps. He used to bring our corps to nursing homes to perform every year. This is actually what inspired me to start “Operation Give Hope” in Southern Illinois. Scott Stewart once said before one of these performances, “Usually when you perform, you play for people who want to hear you play. Today, you are performing for people who need to hear you play.” Being 19 years old and having never been in a nursing home, it was very emotionally overwhelming and depressing at first. Once I got over that, I realized how important and rewarding these experiences were. I strongly encourage you to encourage all of your students, no matter which instrument they play, to bring their talents to the sick and the elderly. I can promise that it will be the most rewarding experience of their entire music career, just as it has been for me. Most nursing homes are extremely happy to have musicians come in and play for the residents, who actually get very little interaction with the outside world. The healing that your students’ music can provide for the residents will be returned back to them tenfold. And these nursing homes are everywhere and easy to find, and they are always thrilled to get performers, even if it is simply somebody playing instrumental solos for them. Also encourage your students to spend a little time to the residents talking to them after they perform. Showing a little bit of care for other humans goes a long way!

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