Music Care Stories: The impact of one volunteer

by Various Writers

palliative care, music therapy, volunteer, krystyne higginsThis story is from Krystyna Higgins. Krystyna lives in Fredericton, New Brunswick, where she freelances as a collaborative pianist, liturgical musician and ensemble performer.  As a regular volunteer at Pine Grove Nursing Home, she leads rhythm sessions as well as a hand bell choir. Her story shows how sharing her musical skills as a volunteer has drastically augmented the quality of life of both residents and staff at the nursing home. It is an example of the power of live music, and how it can tap into the core of the human spirit.

I am a professional pianist who volunteers at a local long term care home. When I began about five years ago, the then Activities Director told me that they had many musicians coming in to perform but – apart from the occasional singalong  – had little in the way of interactive music experiences for the residents. We discovered a box of rhythm instruments (since augmented) which had long sat unused in a storage cupboard, and rather hesitantly I set out to see what could be done.

Now a couple of times a month I lead the residents in a 45-minute session we have dubbed (with apologies to Gershwin!) “I’ve Got Rhythm” – and indeed they do! After opening with a listening activity, we usually spend a few minutes playing “Name That Tune” as they guess the title of various familiar songs I play on the piano. Then we get out the instruments, which include hand drums, maracas, small egg shakers, bells, sticks, wood blocks, etc . The residents join in as I play a variety of marches or dance tunes. We experiment with varying the tempo or the dynamics, or work on “internal rhythm” when the piano cuts out for a few measures while the rhythm-makers continue with the beat.  Sometimes I ask them to copy a particular rhythm that I demonstrate.

The reactions of both residents and staff are quite dramatic. An apparently unresponsive resident will begin to shake his tambourine vigorously as soon as the music starts. A staff member entering the room pushing a wheelchair may be dancing in time to our music. A new resident who was looking very sad is grinning broadly by the end of the session. The power of music takes over that room, and we all feel better for it by the end of each session.

Do you have a story about how music has impacted your life or the lives of people you care for? We want to hear it! Send your stories to [email protected]