It certainly can be tough for adults who spend a lot of their time alone. I know that when I am alone on a rainy day, I am often hearing my “inner voice” with the same laments of that old song, “Stormy Weather.” But- I don’t have to let gloom and misery be my soundtrack. In my music therapy practice, I work with young clients who still have great energy and hope even on the rainiest days. Earlier this week, I wrote a short song with a group of young children that went like this:
I simply suggested “rain outside makes me feel…” and they agreed on “happy.” The opportunity to jump in puddles made all the difference in their appreciation of the rain. If only I could share the world of childhood creativity with more people in my community! I know that this interaction would have caused much of a stir in any nursing home or adult day care. I’d really like to share experiences such as this one through an “intergenerational music group.” It is a group of people in different generations whose purpose is to enjoy the company of those from another generation, and experience growth through musical interactions.
Collaboration between intergenerational groups such as young children and older adults in a music therapy setting can be a powerful medium for members of both groups. Old and young people are motivated by playful activity, and can do an excellent job of caring for one another. In a music group setting, everyone is gaining new experiences- trying some improvisation for the first time, testing a new instrument, or finding one’s own voice, either again or for the first time.
So the next time you find yourself or someone you love brooding on a rainy day, see if you can bring a sense of childlike wonder into your life. If you are interested in starting an intergenerational music group, contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org or 404-446-6945
Caroline Beson, LPMT, MT-BC Small Steps Music Therapist
It’s “the Holidays.” The time when “all is merry and bright.” But there are so many reasons we can feel resentful instead of joyful during this time of year.
First, the media coverage: Whether or not there is a “War on Christmas”, the unemployment rate, the presidential candidates… And did you hear that a new Star Wars movie coming out?! Then, add on family responsibilities: the gifts to buy, the decorations, the additional “stuff” that you take on, the difficult task of avoiding a dozen sweet treats offered to you. And on top of it all, we are approaching the winter solstice. Our days are short; darkness fills each evening, perhaps reminding us of dark times.
This isn’t the “Merry Little Christmas” we imagined. For us, it isn’t a “Happy Hanukkah” or “Joyous Kwanzaa.” For whatever reason, we simply aren’t feeling that awesome burst of positivity. Many of us have been focusing our energy on the obtaining of joy in these holidays; we put extra pressure on ourselves to make the holiday perfect in order to gain maximum joy. But real joy doesn’t work that way.
I don’t know about you, but the feeling “joy” comes very rarely for me. It can be especially elusive when I feel that I’m on the spot. Pressure from others and from myself often brings about the opposite effect. I feel resentful or apathetic when I feel that I must choose a positive emotion.
The truth is: I can choose any emotion I want. As an adult, I can make decisions that help me modulate my emotions. I like to save anger and sadness for times when I am by myself or with someone who understands me well, and can handle my difficult feelings. To keep myself away from the negative emotions, I use a “reframe” of the situation. When I am upset because someone has done something that I find disruptive, I can choose to yell to express anger, or I can choose to make a comment that expresses my concern that the other person’s behavior is interfering with my space. I modulate away from feeling angry by first reframing the situation: instead of “that person is so mean, they need to learn their lesson…” I think, “that person probably forgot what was going on around them, they might need a reminder from me.” and then by acting in accordance to the reframe.
How can we use the reframe to bring joy closer during the holidays? I will provide some examples.
There is a long line at the store. Initial emotion: anger. Desired emotion: joy and acceptance.
Your first reaction might be, “This is crazy. What was I thinking coming here? I can’t possibly wait through this whole line.”
Your reframe might be, “I can use the time in this line as a break from thinking about my mile-long to-do list. I can make a quick phone call to a friend that brings me joy” or “I didn’t want to shop in this store anyway. I’m so glad- this gives me an excuse to leave now. I can shop online or buy these things later!”
A cheerful coworker gives you a gift. It’s something that you don’t think is appropriate. Initial emotion: criticism and resentment. Desired emotion: joy and gratefulness.
Your first reaction might be, “Ugh, another gift that I feel I need to write a thank you note for… and I would never use something like this! What idiot thought of that?”
Your reframe would be, “This person wanted to do something nice for me. The execution was interesting, but I am glad that they were thinking about me.” You can skip the thank you note, regift the gift, return it, or donate it to charity. It doesn’t really matter. You just need to focus your efforts on finding the tiniest “nice” part that can give you a bit of joy.
You hear a song that you loathe, or someone singing your favorite song wildly out of tune. Your initial reaction: irritation. Desired emotion: joy.
Your first reaction might be to cover your ears and scream “La La La La” or to simply let this music turn your mood sour.
Your reframe would be to imagine a person who would find this joyful. Would a child love this song? You might imagine that someone else is singing. (Use your “mind’s ear” just like you use your “mind’s eye” to imagine moving furniture around a room).
Sometimes the reframe leads me to joy. Other times, it helps me turn away from anger and toward acceptance. Sometimes it gets me to a place where I can feel gratitude mix with melancholy- like saying “I am missing something or someone that is no more, but so glad I have the memory.” If you decide to try the reframing technique, give yourself credit when you bring yourself to any emotion that is more comfortable to you than your initial emotion. Celebrate often with music that lifts your mood, the kindness of friends, or a moment of silent meditation.
Remember that one or two flashes of joy can provide fuel for future joy, like a snowball gaining size and momentum as it rolls down a hill. If you had a talk with someone who was caring and tender, spend a few moments reliving those feelings. Conversely, if watching the news makes your blood boil, turn it off. You can read the headlines from a print news source at a time when you feel you can better manage the negative stories.
Lastly, keep in mind that music can be a major mood moderator. You can control the kinds of music you hear, so if the radio is souring your mood, change the station. Surround yourself with music that suggests joy, happiness, and comedy in order to push away the negative moods and truly find joy in the holidays.
All out of ideas for “joyous” songs? Try the songs on my Youtube playlist “JOY”:
Caroline Beson, LPMT, MT-BC Small Steps Music Therapist
The more fun we can have together, the stronger our relationship.
If your first attempt doesn’t spark the connection you want, try again with a different song.
I can’t tell you how often my parents would tell me as a teen: “Caroline, you have to turn this off. I don’t like this music and it is driving me nuts.” I came to realize that my time with them was too brief to try to persuade them, and there was plenty of music for us to listen to that we both enjoyed. Today I don’t waste time: I play the music I know we both want to hear. My mom likes James Taylor and my Dad likes a lot of classic rock. Since I have started taking more interest in hearing the music they like (and sometimes it’s new music- wow, everybody and their mom loves Lake Street Dive, right?!), I’ve noticed that we seem to communicate with more positivity and I feel more connected to them. It’s true that when connecting with anyone through music, music for which you have a mutual admiration is the ideal choice. The reason for this is simple: we feel much more pleasure when we listen to music that we like. And the more fun we can have together, the stronger our relationship.
This approach works well for me because my parents are adults who can tell me about their likes and dislikes. I was always interested in music, so I payed attention when they discussed music. I learned that my dad likes a couple songs that my mom dislikes, and vice versa; and that certain songs have rich meaning for them as a couple. It's so easy for me to know what music to choose to connect with my parents.
But what about an aging parent who struggles to communicate? What about connecting with an estranged parent? What about a parent who is a widow or widower who finds that the songs that once brought comfort and happiness now bring sorrow and grief? These situations provide additional challenges. If you find yourself saying, “I truly don't know my parent’s taste in music!” you aren't alone. It's likely not information you needed to know. (When was the last time you filled out a questionnaire that asked about your own favorite song? Probably sometime in grade school.)
You may also think you know your parent’s preferences in music, and be surprised to learn that you are dead wrong… You may arrive at a music therapy session in a nursing home expecting to hear your mom’s favorite hymns because you told the music therapist what a faithful churchgoer she was, only to find that Mom singing every word to Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog,” with an energy you have not seen in decades.
A person’s preferences in music can be tricky to uncover. When someone says, “my favorite song is, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”, it might be assumed that their preference is with old crooners and divas. This song was popularly sung in a soulful ballad style by The Platters. But this song has been performed in a number of styles by a number of artists. Plus, people often have a favorite song that is meaningful because it was a favorite of someone close to them, not because it is your favorite style of music in general. Knowing this, how can we begin to choose the music we listen to with our aging parents? I’ll offer my best tips here.
Choose the music that is meaningful to your relationship. My mom used to sing a lullabye to me as a child, and although it isn’t an especially important song, it does take me back to times of comfort and connection. I’m sure it would provide the same feeling for her. Try to choose a song that meant something to both you and your parent. This might be a favorite jingle, a song that made you laugh together, a song that invokes a special holiday, or even a lullabye that reinforces the parent-child relationship.
Choose the music that your parent likely heard as a teen and young adult. For the most part, people enjoy the songs of their youth, when they were the young consumers of new music. Your parent might have attended a concert that was meaningful to them, or heard a song on the radio that they enjoyed, or had a great time at a school or community dance.
Choose music that is authentic to who they are: I have always found that bluegrass and folk music is part of my upbringing. Consider the kinds of places your parent lived during their life: Did they enjoy the big city life? They might be fans of music for dancing- swing, big band, or ballroom styles. Did they attend square dances regularly? Country, folk, and bluegrass are common interests here in the Southeast. These can sometimes be “picked up” by folks who relocate here as adults as well.
Choose music that matches the energy level you want to have in your relationship. Unless your parent needs help with relaxation or sleep, there is no need to choose the slowest song you can find! If you want to do a little dancing together, you can move at half-speed, or simply dance with your hands- clasp hands and sway, seated or standing. The faster tempo might be a great energizer for your parent, and help you keep the conversation going.
Lastly, experiment and learn from your time together. If your first attempt doesn’t spark the connection you want, try again with a different song. You can compile a list of those songs that do seem to engage your parent, and create your own “mixtape” over time.
For some, this process will be an easy way to reconnect musically with aging parents. For others, this may seem nearly impossible. A difficult relationship can create difficulties that may not be easily reconciled. Consulting a music therapist is a great next step. Music therapists are trained to guide music experiences in situations of strained relationships. Ask any care organizations your parent may use (nursing home, in-home care, senior center, hospice, etc.) if they offer music therapy services, or contact Small Steps Music, LLC for more information on services.