The first time I looked to music for therapeutic purposes with Kate was over eight years ago. We were getting ready to attend a concert by the Knoxville Symphony. Kate was very slow getting dressed. I reminded her several times that we needed to leave right away. This was not long after her diagnosis, and I hadn’t learned how important it is not to rush her. She had a panic attack. That meant I had to calm her. That helped, but she was still experiencing the attack when we got to the car. The first thing I did was put on the second movement of Brahms’ Violin Concerto. It’s a very peaceful movement, and I hoped that might calm her. It worked. After that, I developed a short playlist of the second movements of violin concertos of Brahms, Mendelssohn, and Tchaikovsky. We never had another severe panic attack, but she did have milder ones.
That playlist came in handy, and it motivated me to select a broad range of music to play in the car wherever we went. I still play music anytime we are in the car, and I’m careful to select music she especially likes. From there I expanded music at home. Now I rely on it all the time, and I am always discovering new applications. One of those occurred yesterday.
The recent Covid-19 pandemic is affecting everyone. I had been to the grocery store to get a few things in case we weren’t able to eat out. I returned home an hour after the sitter arrived. Although I knew I might run into trouble, I came back just to unload the groceries, some of which needed to be refrigerated or frozen.
As I walked into the kitchen, I saw that Kate was lying on the sofa with her eyes open. I felt I couldn’t leave without speaking to her. I sat down beside her and saw that she was disturbed. I asked what was wrong. She said, “I don’t know. I’m just not myself.” I talked to her very calmly for a few minutes but could tell this was going to take more time.
I told the sitter she could go and turned on “Send in the Clowns” sung by Barbra Streisand. This song has long been one of Kate’s favorites. It is usually very soothing. Not this time. It is a sad song, and, for the first time, she felt the sadness as opposed to the song’s beauty. I knew she needed something much lighter and thought of “A Bushel and a Peck” by Doris Day. I sometimes use this when I am trying to get her up in the morning. She recognized the song very quickly, and the two of us sang it together. She became more cheerful. We, accompanied by Doris, sang it two more times.
This had been successful but had only taken a few minutes. She and I sing together, at least for brief periods, periodically, but it is usually in the car. I decided it might be good if we sang more and streamed a 3-disc album of 100 children’s songs. We started with “The Alphabet Song.” Then we moved to the “Eensy, Weensy Spider.” For the next hour we sang songs we hadn’t heard since our own children were young, some not since we we were children ourselves. They included songs like “Polly-Wolly-Doodle,” “If You’re Happy,” “ The Bear Went Over the Mountain,” “Bingo,” “This Old Man,” “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” “Old McDonald,” “Do Lord,” “She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain,” and many others. We must have sung 30-40 of the 100 and had a great time.
Music is powerful. It has saved us many times, and is always a source of great pleasure.