Can You Feel It? Music That Won’t Be Heard

Once a week, I visit the home of a client who is deaf-blind. I admit I was surprised when I first got this referral, but “Mae” has proven to be one of the most successful clients. Mae is a 52 year old with unspecified disabilities, almost complete hearing loss, and blindness. She is nonverbal and knows just a few signs for the things she loves most- coffee, and music.
Mae is apprehensive about new people so it took a few weeks for her to get comfortable with in-home music therapy sessions. But when she started strumming my guitar, she was hooked- and wanted to hold one. I’m guessing a family member used to play guitar because she gets the gist of it. Mae will stand close to me and model whatever I do- I have to be careful not to stand on one foot or Mae will copy that – and fall over. I have two small guitars with straps, and one of them is a left hand guitar. I hold that so that Mae’s will be correct while she mirrors what I do. This mostly involves strumming and moving fingers around. I placed a capo on her guitar and detuned it so that it wouldn’t matter what she played with her left hand.
Mae’s lovely staff bought her a ukulele and we’ve been focusing on that- Mae loves strumming, and with prompting can now play a “C” chord. She also loves dancing- when we started, she held on to the counter to get around the house, walking with an unsteady gait. Now, she dances back and forth without assistance, stands on one foot, and imitates the hula and the disco. No joke. Mae also loves playing drums, and is taking the lead on telling ME when to play, stop, and switch instruments.
How is it possible that someone who can’t hear can benefit so much from a modality that is usually appreciated through the ears?
It’s because music is multi-faceted. Music breaks through barriers of language (or lack of language) and allows for a special kind of self-expression. Music stimulates residual sensory ability and participating in it allows for a sense of achievement and control. And music isn’t just about the sound- it’s about the act of creating, the social aspect of sharing, and the resonance in each participant’s heart and soul.
(hey, that’s a song!)

Kate Beever

About Kate Beever

I am a board-certified neurologic music therapist and owner of Maine Music & Health, which provides services and consulting to healthcare and arts agencies throughout the state.