A few of the many amazing stories I have found myself in these past 6 weeks of my internship:

Dang my Rowdy Soul

My second week we visited a newly admitted patient in her home. Her quality of life was very low and she was unresponsive to us and our music therapy, but we knew the husband would benefit, which is perfectly appropriate in hospice. After we explained what music therapy was, the husband told us what his wife likes, and also mentioned a song that he was interested in hearing, called “Dang my Rowdy Soul”. He explained how he used to listen to this song on his grandparents’ Victrola but hadn’t heard it after they died. I took it upon myself to find the song, which I did thanks to Youtube, and I wrote it down and learned it.

The next time we visited, I played the song for the husband. He confirmed it was the right song and was a little flabbergasted that I had found it just for him. I asked him when he heard it last and he said 1951, right before he left for Korea. He was very appreciative of our visit and our music.

His wife died the next day. It may seem odd to hear, but sometimes death is a good thing, especially considering her quality of life was so poor and it was very hard on the husband. But what struck me was that we wouldn’t be going back to visit. If I hadn’t learned and sung the song for him on that second visit, he may never have heard it again.

The Old Rugged Cross

We went to do an assessment (first time visit) of a current patient with dementia. My supervisor was familiar with the patient and warned me that she may be agitated. We arrived to her room in the nursing home and looked in. The patient was small, and curled up in her bed. She was in the fetal position and laying sideways. She appeared to be sleeping. My supervisor knelt down next to her, touched her hand over the blanket, and spoke her name. Her immediate response was a jerky motion and “what do you want?” but didn’t open her eyes. When we said we were here to share music with her, she said “alright.” Knowing she was spiritual, we began singing hymns. The patient began singing along but never opened her eyes. After a period of singing, we said good-bye and that we would be back soon. The patient thanked us for coming and was very appreciative. She was pleasantly resting when we left.

Upon writing our note in the patient’s chart, we found several other notes stating that the patient was agitated, mean, and uncooperative, calling people names and telling them to leave her alone. My supervisor and I looked at each other in bewilderment. How interesting we didn’t get that response at all…

Precious and Few

On a Friday afternoon, the last patient of the week, we did an assessment of a gentleman who had been discharged from Hospice and recently re-admitted. Only in his 60s, he was rapidly declining due to Alzheimer’s disease. His wife was present and was coping well with her husband’s condition. Since my supervisor had done music therapy with this patient before he was initially discharged, she knew some of his preferred music, and also that he used to dance. Usually only able to hold attention for five seconds on one thing, the patient kept dancing with help from his wife while my supervisor played a blues progression on the guitar. When the music stopped, my supervisor talked to the wife about her husband’s care, while the husband wandered around the room, not really focusing on anything.

Knowing the song “Precious and Few” was a significant song for the couple, my supervisor pulled it up on her iPad and played the recording while the wife took her husbands hands and moved them in a circular motion while dancing. He complied and moved along with his wife.

As I was watching, I noticed the patient was moving, but not exhibiting any kind of affect (emotional response) and not acknowledging his wife. Then, for a brief moment, the husband put his left arm around his wife’s waist and pulled her in close, resting his chin on her shoulder. She laughed and “awww”ed and said, “See, you’re still in there somewhere.” But before she finished her sentence, he went back to his previous behavior. The moment brought tears to my eyes.

Going Home

I spent most of last week in orientation, so I was in the office and not out on visits. There’s a particular song I’ve introduced to my supervisor, called “Going Home.” It’s poignant and very appropriate for those last days and moments of a patient’s life. Just as my training was getting underway one morning, my supervisor texted me and asked me to call her so I could sing her the melody of the song, as she was about to visit a patient who was impending (very close to death) and she wasn’t completely comfortable with the song yet. I left her a voicemail of me singing the song and she also was aided by a Youtube clip.

She texted me later that the song was perfect for the moment and the family members were able to grieve openly with each other. My supervisor left the patient relaxed, though still showing signs of impending death, and the family, close together.

The patient died that afternoon.

Oh, how much have I seen the effects of music therapy in hospice care. It’s the soft cushion of care and support upon which our patients and families rest and breathe.



One semester in…

Here are some things I learned this semester from my classes:


I can’t play bar chords. But, I can play and sing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” in front of 15 older adults successfully, which was my final exam. p.s. when I was done one of the gentlemen told me “Judy would be proud.”

Special Education:

Teachers have a hard job. (I really already knew this, but having a night class half-filled with tired teachers confirmed it.)

There are 3385 administrative and legal hoops to jump through for any special education need for a child, followed by 952 pieces of paperwork. Despite this (or because of it), the United States by far has the best, most progressive special education legislation and procedures in the world. I read an article about learning disabilities in Japan and to this day, teachers believe the reason for the learning disabilities is their poor teaching skills, not a cognitive deficit in the mind of the child.

Music Therapy:

I could write a year-long series of how much I’ve learned about music therapy, so I’ll just stick with a few things…

We are hard-wired for music. Our brains have specific areas that comprehend melody, harmony, rhythm, timbre, duration, pitch, and tempo.

Mother-infant bonding creates crucial pathways in an infant’s brain that cannot be created in any other way. Mothers, sing to your babies.

The reason that music helps so much in the field of mental health is because it is a normal activity that draws people back into reality. Music is a temporal art. It’s not like a painting where you can look at it, leave, and come back. To listen to music, you have to be in the moment. And that is important for someone who isn’t grounded in reality.

A music therapist can change physiological processes in someone by matching their breathing/heartbeat/blood pressure/etc. in the tempo of a song and then slowing the tempo, thus slowing the breathing/heartbeat/blood pressure/etc. This lowers anxiety, stops panic attacks, helps with respiratory, and is much cheaper than medication.

Musical Response Stimulation is a method used with people who have lost the ability to speak (stroke, Parkinson’s). In this method, the music therapist will use “overlearned” verbal interactions, such as “How are you?-I’m fine” or “Silent night, holy ____” in song form. Because the responses in these interactions are so common, the client may respond naturally in song form – and SPEAK.

For a music therapist working in Hospice (where I am focusing), they must learn to be in the moment, because it may be the client’s last.

Sometimes the only result a music therapist may get during a 30 minute session is one smile at the very end.

And finally,


Here are some things I’ve learned as a second-time college student who’s lived in the real world:

Life is not as dramatic as it was the first time around.

I still procrastinate, but the meaning of the word has changed.

I don’t know how I did college the first time around without a laptop and Google.

This generation of undergrads is addicted to their phones. Like, seriously addicted.

The food on campus is terrible. I’ve vowed to myself never to eat there again.

I’ve gotten really good at using transition words, such as nevertheless, moreover, and furthermore.

BS isn’t necessary when you actually know what you’re talking about.

Skipping class is wasting money. A lot of money.

Theater majors are the same no matter what year it is.

Professors seem more like friends than superiors. But I still highly respect them.

I fit in tremendously with my love of Harry Potter. Holy crap, the first Harry Potter movie came out when I was a freshmen in college.

I feel old. But apparently I look young. The average age people think I am is 24. Must be the bangs.

So this is what having experience feels like. It’s kinda nice, finally.

Because He Lives

There was a guest post on Jason Boyett’s blog a few days ago that I really resonated with.  You can find it here.  The post was about doubt.  One sentence really hit me:

“I surrounded myself with the things of God because I couldn’t figure out how to surround myself with God Himself.”

I tend to do this sometimes.  I surround myself with Christian blogs, sermons, Hillsong, small groups.  Because, as stated above, sometimes I can’t figure out how to surround myself with God Himself.  I suppose there are worse things I could surround myself with.  Nevertheless, there is no substitution for God.

Tonight I played on the worship team at church.  The message was awesome, the music was tight, the congregation was on fire, and the Spirit was really moving.  But I only know this because I could see it in others.  For whatever reason, tonight I wasn’t focused, I wasn’t on the right wavelength.  I believed what I was singing, I was happy to do this ministry, but I was just off.

I’ve felt for a while now that I’ve been dressing up Jesus in my fancy Christianity,  and I’ve covered him up.  I’ve embellished his words.  He’s gone out of focus.

So when I got home, I got my guitar out (which I’m learning to play) and I decided to drag out my good ol’ Methodist hymnal.  I was tired of worship songs, I needed stuff that was older, more potent.  As I flipped through the pages,  a wave of gratitude for my upbringing came over me.  After playing through a few hymns, including a favorite – “It is Well with my Soul” – I turned to “Because He Lives.”

I began to play.  I began to sing.  I began to cry.  And God showed up.

Maybe you’re like me, you’ve been focused on the means of seeking God, instead of actually the seeking.  I encourage you to simplify.  Be still.  Be genuine.  And when the impact of God’s reality and his overwhelming love hits you, do something to remember it.  I actually recorded the song on Garage Band as a reminder of God’s faithfulness.

I won’t share more about my experience tonight, I want it to stay a holy moment between me and God for right now.  But I will leave you with the lyrics from this hymn.

God sent his Son, they called him Jesus;

he came to love, heal, and forgive;

he lived and died to buy my pardon,

an empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives.

Because he lives, I can face tomorrow

because he lives, all fear is gone;

because I know he holds the future,

and life is worth the living just because he lives.

How sweet to hold a newborn baby,

and feel the pride and joy he gives;

but greater still the calm assurance,

this child can face uncertain days

because he lives.

And then one day I’ll cross the river,

I’ll fight life’s final war with pain;

and then as death gives way to victory,

I’ll see the lights of glory and I’ll know he reigns.

Because he lives, I can face tomorow;

because he lives, all fear is gone;

because I know he holds the future,

and life is worth the living just because he lives.