Music & Community

by Caroline M

(inspired by music therapy at the Utah State Hospital)

I remember lying in bed when I was eight years old and being so consumed with fear that I went into the bathroom and threw up. It was the night I found out a girl in my community had been kidnapped and a thought had entered my mind which left me so completely horrified that the repercussions of it still affect me ten years later: People can be monsters too.

Up until that point, I had always been afraid of imaginary monsters–the large and fuzzy creatures I checked for in my closet. But this new concept changed things. It opened a door. The people around me became my greatest fear. To me, there was no clear reason why these predators did what they did. Maybe they had an abusive father when they were young; maybe they were mentally ill; or maybe they justwanted attention. I couldn’t explain it, so I feared it. Looking back on that night, I can see how it was the end of my childhood. Some veil of naivete had been lifted. I saw a different world. It took me quite a few years before I came to the conclusion that to fear those around me wouldn’t make me feel secure. It would only make me feel alone.

Read it Twice:
“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
― Mother Teresa

Music Therapy I:
As I walked through the door on my way to orientation, I was greeted by a woman behind the front desk who, eyes glued to her computer, jutted her thumb towards the back and mumbled
something about the last door on the left. I empathized with her since it was nine a.m. on a Saturday, and I didn’t really want to be there either. I opened the door cautiously and poked my head in. The room was packed, and I sheepishly glanced around as fifty eyes followed me while I quickly made my way to the back of the room.

Our program instructor was a 50-something woman named Shawna who had been working at the State Hospital for 35 years. She started out by telling us we didn’t need to be afraid of the patients and that she’d only been truly afraid for her life twice. The first was when she was playing checkers and the patient impulsively flipped the board over and began yelling at her. The second was at some sort of Halloween party. “Most of them are harmless,” she said, “You don’t need to worry about being attacked if you do what you’re told.”

Music Therapy II:
The next evening, I met Brandtly, who was the only music therapist the state hospital had. He was a kind-spoken, easygoing man who had been working full time at the hospital for three years. He explained that we would be working with the adolescent boys and that I should just model good behavior. We grabbed some drums and waited. Three boys walked in moments later and sat down. I scrutinized them–clenching my drum as I wondered if today would be the day one of them snapped. I glanced at one of the boys who was slouched in his chair and realized how interesting it is to see a hardened child. The stereotype of an angelic face with wide and wondering eyes is destroyed before you and replaced by a stony
surface. I suppose it’s those eyes that made me sad, looking into the eyes that have seen the grimiest parts of human nature before they could tie their own shoes.

It may have been more jolting for me than most since I was one of those randomly lucky children who received a good home instead of a bad one, a loving mom instead of a hateful one. It made me feel ashamed as I looked at this boy who had been beaten straight out of his childhood. My grip on the drumloosened. “Let’s bang on the drums and scream out how you feel today,” Brandtly said.

At the end of our time together, the boys walked out and left to finish their normal routine in their unit, while I drove back to my apartment to make myself some dinner and crawl into bed. My mom called me that night and asked me how my day was. I glanced down at my volunteer badge still hooked onto my belt loop and said “thank you.”

“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.”
― Mother Teresa

Brandtly once told me that music is the best form of self-medication. He said it’s not a universal language like people say because he can play one song and get five different responses from five different patients for what that song is about. Music is a mirror: we hear from it what we need to hear; We receive what we need to receive. It’s a universal tool that we all use, and we all use it differently. Music gives people relief for awhile.

A couple years after the night I found out about the girl who had been kidnapped, I became obsessed with music. It was my outlet and way of making me feel important. I had been singing since I was little, but for the first time, I actually performed for people. Music has alwaysfascinated me because there’s no practical purpose to it. If music disappeared from the earth, we could still continue on with prosperous, productive lives.

And yet, for me, music is my way of saying this is life. I guess it’s because I sing that I feel so connected with music. It is literally coming out of me. It’s the part of myself that can be given to others and effect them. It’s my little “hello and welcome” to the world.

And Another:
We know only too well that what we are doing is nothing more than a drop in the ocean. But if
the drop were not there, the ocean would be missing something.”
― Mother Teresa

The Climb
Brandtly told me that you could tell which boys had been there the longest. “The older ones are calmer and know how to handle themselves,” he said.

I guess time is a healer. Thirty minutes of music therapy every Monday makes a difference. A small one, maybe, but who’s counting?

The boys are on the upward climb to recovery. Every person who encourages them gives them a stepping stone to get there. I suppose it made me realize how we’re not really different from each other after all. I’m recovering from the fear of pain, and so are they. Maybe one day, we’ll meet each other at the top of our climb.

The Last:
“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.”
―Mother Teresa


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