It is January, a man in his mid-70s carefully walks up the stairs to open a door. This is John, he and his wife occupy a small house on the outskirts of the city. It is a quiet neighborhood. He doesn’t leave the house often, and doesn’t participate in many activities anymore. As he reaches the top of the stairs, he opens the door to the hospital’s rehabilitation center. He walks faster then most, yet slower then he would like. He takes this uncomfortable trip once a week, almost religiously. Upstairs he greets his fellow group members, all with various stages of Parkinson’s disease. This is a music supported exercise group co-led by a physical therapist and music therapist. The exercise group is designed to help maintain the participant’s functionality and independence. Speaking just above a whisper, John mentions how he loved to sing in a choir, but felt he needed to stop because his symptoms were “ruining the choir for everyone else”. In speaking to the music therapist after the group, he confided that he could not pronounce all of the words in the tempo of the song, and even when he could keep up musically, he would could not control his breathing and often found himself out of breath.
Now it is April, three months, and a great deal of hard work later finds John sitting in front of an audience full of his friends and family. With great care and tremendous focus John steadies himself and begins to sing. The songs are old favorites; “In the Garden” and “Goodnight my Someone”. As the notes roll out over the audience, John’s wife has tears rolling down her face. Friends reach out to each other in support. John sings each word with accuracy and his face surges with his emotions. Singing is not only about his therapeutic successes: the strength in his lungs, his breath support, his articulation. This song is more than that, it is a triumph, it is joy, it is proof. John has shown his family, and more importantly himself, that he does not need to sit on the sidelines, he still can participate in life, and in his love for the music he thought he had lost.
But this story is not just about John, it can also be true in many ways for you or your loved ones. We often forget that music is not just for the masses, not just for those who make millions of dollars. John’s songs represented far more than just financial wealth for John and his family. Take some time and consider the ways music is a part of your life, your happiness, and your health. Music influences all of us, it is a part of our bodies, our history and culture, and a part of our survival as a species. It is a part of you.