WAKING THE SPIRIT
I’ve loved music ever since I can remember (never mind how long a time that is…) When I was about ten I fell in love with Italian operas. I’d lie on the floor listening to Puccini’s “La Bohème” or Verdi’s La Traviata by the hour. I was transported by the beauty and emotion, the majesty of the music, perhaps more even than the singing…if that’s possible. (One of my favorite memories is singing in the choir in my high school. Once, when we were rehearsing for our Christmas “Oratorio,” I was even asked to sing a solo. But after a few bars the choir master said, “Okay, thanks, Gail.”
I’m reading a wonderful book about music called, Waking the Spirit by Andrew Schulman. It’s about how music can help to heal us. Here’s a quote by Giovanni Pico della Mirandola from a few hundred years ago: “Medicine heals the mind, soul, and spirit by the body, but music heals the body by the mind, soul, and spirit.”
And that’s where Andrew Schulman comes in. Schulman plays the guitar. He doesn’t just play the guitar; he plays it in the surgical intensive care units of hospitals…to help sooth and heal people who are critically ill.
And it works. In his widely acclaimed book, “Waking the Spirit,” Schulman describes how he quietly sits by patients’ bedsides and softly, gently, sweetly and sometimes, depending on the patient’s tastes or reactions which he gauges from his computer screen which is hooked to the patient, dynamically, plays his guitar.
Here’s how he describes a woman in “Bed 9″ named Alice. “She was about sixty years old and wore a pale blue gown. She was unable to speak, her breathing was extremely labored and her body was, tied up in knots.”
“She was just barely there…” Schulman wrote. “There was no sign of life in her face or anywhere.”
He started by playing a well-known chorale from a Bach cantata, called “Sleepers Awake…” But when he glanced up at Alice he saw no reaction whatsoever. “She was,” Schulman said, “by far the sickest person I’d ever seen in the hospital…it didn’t look like there was any brain activity at all.” Schulman wondered if perhaps he should leave.
But instead he began to play the old song, “Alice Blue Gown.” He looked at the music, then up at the computer screen and back again. Within minutes, her vital signs were back to where they had been earlier.
Schulman wrote, “I played for Alice with everything I had…I paused to let the notes spin out from my guitar and linger until they faded away.” On an impulse Schulman leaned forward and whispered to Alice, “Did you like the music?”
Almost miraculously, Alice’s hand began to tremble and then it started slowly rotating to the right. “A thumb’s up!” Schulman whispered to the nurse, “A thumb’s up…,” he almost cried.
Yes, music - all kinds of music – can awaken the spirit. And in a time when our spirits may well be exhausted, we need music more than ever.
So play on.
“Where words fail, music speaks.” Hans Christian Anderson