“How pale is the sky that brings forth the rain
As the changing of seasons prepares me again
For the long bitter nights and the wild winter’s day”
The lyrics of Alison Krauss and Natalie MacMaster’s song rings true for many of us this month. Yesterday’s cold rain kept even the hardiest of cyclists, walkers and joggers indoors. The only humans you see out and about in the inclement weather are those who are walking their dogs.
The month of December brings joy to families for the Christmas and holiday season. The idyllic images of excited and happy children putting cookies out for Santa – with the aroma of delicious food cooking and a tree surrounded with gifts – is truly the stuff warm memories are made of.
The other aspects of the month are not quite as engaging. It is typically a time of wild storms and power outages, which left thousands of people in BC without power over the holiday season. Wind storms and power surges also left many homes with unforeseen damages and repair costs.
The other draining features of the month, aside from financial pressures, is the fact the days are so short. We have finally passed the winter solstice and longest day of the year. One of the great things about the west coast is that once we get into January, the days are notably longer. Often by the end of the month, the crocuses are in bloom.
Hard as it is to believe – it means spring is around the corner! It is a time for New Year’s resolutions and renewed optimism. Although I sing and play the guitar on a regular basis, one of my resolves is to join a singalong this January. Singing and listening to music is not only for the love of music – but also for our mental health and shared countenance. Joining together with others expands and magnifies the benefits of music – and conveys its messages both inwardly and outwardly.
In recent years music and art has become integrated into therapeutic treatment plans for those with dementia. The upshots can be quite dramatic. In one of the music programs, the family of a person with dementia is asked about the person’s music history. They compile a list of favourite artists and songs the person loved to listen to when they were younger. Once the tailored playlist is put onto an MP3 player, the headphones are put on for the patient and they track the outcomes.
The results are both dramatic and encouraging. In one case an elderly black man whose name is Henry – had very little quality of life and was almost completely non-responsive before being introduced to the individually tailored music program. When they put the headphones on, he immediately perked up and started singing along. After they took the headphones off – for the first time in ten years, he began talking.
Henry said the music made him come alive inside. He poignantly pointed out that it reminded him of love and romance. He remembered his favourite artists and the best songs they did. Watching the transformation in him and the eloquence of his expression after ten long years of depressing silence, was truly heart-warming.
Another innovative approach to using music as therapy is when people have strokes with damage to the areas of the brain responsible for language. It makes it very frustrating because the person is cognitively intact, but lacking the ability to speak or find familiar words. The vocabulary is there somewhere, but is no longer accessible. They have found that a person with damage to the left hemisphere of the brain can re-develop the ability to speak by singing what they want to say to a familiar melody. The musical lyrics and notations are right hemisphere dominated. After awhile the person can drop the melody and speak the words normally.
The music and art therapy programs need funding to keep them going. They have already found that the people involved in music therapy improve in cognitive function and mood. Alternatively family and friends can gift a person in a long term care facility with a playlist and headphones.
What we already know about music, memory and mood and how it affects the brain and limbic system – is miles ahead of what we knew about it in the past. Music unlocks memories and facilitates language comprehension and flow. It is one of the few rather addictive pleasures that elevates the mood without any negative side effects or downside.
In another case on Haida Gwaii – a talented elderly musician with advanced Parkinson’s disease needed assistance to get on the stage. But once there – he was able to play the saxophone with as much rhythm and finesse as ever. When asked how he thought it was possible he replied, “I don’t know. I think it is because the music is hard-wired into me.” The dancing crowd would have agreed!
This December, I found myself listening to Alison Krauss a fair bit. Eventually the lyrics started to sink in and I could relate to them, thinking “Get me through December” might have more widespread common ground than “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”. One is truth and the other is fantasy. We need a bit of both to get through the month.
For some the month of December is full of good cheer and positive experiences. For others it is the polarized opposite. Probably for most of us – the month brings a mix of the two extremes. For those who experience the good that can come with the holiday cheer, it is also a time to have compassion, empathy and charity for those who are less fortunate. Without such an inclination, Christmas becomes glaringly harsh and materialistic.
The good news is that it is almost over. Once again we are headed into a year of new beginnings and change.
Whether we are motivated and inspired by faith or by a change in the weather ~ the soft melody and lyrics remind us the time is short-lived. It is a mnemonic of how much music can reassure us and soothe the soul.
“Just get me through December
A promise I’ll remember
Get me through December
So I can start again”
Copyright Valerie J. Hayes and Quiet West Vintage (2018). Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Valerie J. Hayes and Quiet West Vintage with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.