Music as Healing

I’ve loved music for as long as I can remember.

I know that’s cliché, and almost everybody says it, but I really, truly mean it. Music is something that has just always been a part of my life, you know? I started taking piano lessons when I was basically an infant (okay, I was actually ~6), I played clarinet in the school band in grades 6-9, I taught myself how to play the guitar and the harmonica, and I like to think of myself as an amateur drummer who only lacks a drum kit (Christmas is coming, family… let me play drums). The next on my to-learn list is ukulele, but honestly if I could learn how to play every single instrument in existence, I’d be happy as a clam.

More than anything, though, I love to sing.

Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve loved singing. We’ve got home videos of me literally pushing my sister and cousins out of the way so I could be front and centre singing Rudolph. Sure, it was rude of 2 or 3 year-old me (I don’t know how old I was, just that I was a jerk) but it was the beginning of my love for singing. Growing up, it was that love that brought me to my school and church choirs at 8 years old, to the Dartmouth All City Youth Choir at 12, and to Berwick for Choir Camp every summer for most of my childhood (and my youth).

So, basically I grew up as a total choir nerd.

Sadly, at 22 I don’t sing in choirs anymore – I outgrew my school choirs and the DACYC, and I haven’t been to church in ~4-5 years. Outside of that, I just haven’t found a choir to “replace” the ones I was in for so many years.

Despite that, my love of music is still so, so strong. That’s why I felt so blessed to have the opportunity to join the DACYC earlier this week for their performance at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport. It was the first time I’d sang with a choir since 2011, and let me tell you, it felt like coming home. Having sheet music in my hands, learning new songs, seeing the smiles on people’s faces when they heard us sing… ugh, y’all it was so great.

It’s funny, though, because believe it or not the annual airport trip is pretty physically demanding. Let me lay it out for y’all:

  • We left the house at around 8:45AM to get to the Dartmouth Music Centre where the choir is based. Early mornings are exhausting mornings if you ask me.
  • We stayed there to rehearse from about 9-10AM. It is worth noting that the chairs in there are not great for cripples.
  • We then made our way onto 2 school busses to drive to the airport. Again, it’s worth noting that school busses are the worst ever.
  • When we got to the airport, we had to walk from the bus terminal to the main entrance, and then make our way up a million flights of stairs to get to the observation deck where we could eat lunch before our performance.
  • Then we went back down the million flights of stairs to get to the performance area, where we stood on some bleachers for an hour and sang awesome Christmas songs.
  • Finally, we got back on the busses and headed home.

When I was less crippled, that was a tiring day, but not necessarily a painful one. Now, though? That day should’ve KILLED me. I should’ve left that airport in complete, full body agony.

But I didn’t.

In fact, when I got home I was in absolutely no pain. Instead, I felt refreshed and invigorated. I was reminded of just how important singing is to me – and I’m not talking about car karaoke or obnoxious shower singing, though I do enjoy both (seriously, if you’re ever driving with me, expect to sing). I was reminded of how therapeutic and healing music can be.

If I’d spent the day on my feet doing anything else, I’d have been in a tremendous amount of pain when all was said and done. When I’m singing, though, I just feel happy, and full, and like all is right in the world. So after the airport trip, there was no pain, no anxiety, just joy.

That is so rare for me, y’all. ‘Cause here’s the thing… even on low pain days – days with no dislocations, no falls, no injuries – I’m still in pain. That’s one of the realities of being (dis)Abled and living with multiple chronic illnesses – I am literally ALWAYS in some degree of pain. So for me to feel none? That’s magic. That’s a miracle.

It got me thinking a lot about music as therapy, and I found myself wondering why I’ve been neglecting the importance of emotional and spiritual healing for so long. For me, music is magic; it sends me to a place where pain isn’t the constant reality, and it erases my fears and anxieties in a way that nothing else does. Yet after I graduated high school, when I’d outgrown so many of my musical outlets, I did nothing to fill that gap. I let that part of myself slip away, and now I’m beginning to realize that it has taken its toll.

Well, not anymore!

According to the Canadian Association for Music Therapy, music can be used to “promote, maintain, and restore mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health.” Now, they’re obviously talking about music therapy specifically (which is facilitated by a certified music therapist, and is pretty awesome) so this is not that. BUT the truth is, I believe that music in any context has the potential to do what the CAMT is talking about here. Music is something that, for whatever reason, heals a lot of people. Now, I should specify that when I say “heals” I don’t mean it magically erases illness or (dis)Ability. Music is not going to eliminate my Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome… but on days that I’m dealing with copious amounts of pain, or struggling with severe depression? Music helps, and music heals. It gives me the hope to keep going, and when you’re sick, hope is a really powerful thing.

So I’m going to make a conscious effort to make more time for music. Maybe that will mean stopping by the DACYC rehearsals on Tuesdays every now and then, maybe it will mean finding a church choir to sing with, or maybe it will mean teaching myself how to play a new instrument or two. Maybe I’ll take voice lessons, or find a music therapist, or a community choir… I don’t know yet. But if anyone reading this wants to grab a few instruments and jam, that sounds like a great place to start.

I’m gonna leave y’all with a verse from my favourite Emily Dickinson poem:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all

Thanks for reading, y’all. I hope you all take some time to sing today.

– Stephanie, ECC

PS. I really, really encourage everyone to check out the Dartmouth All City Youth Choir. Karen Newhook MacDonald, Michael MacDonald, and June Rigden are three of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met, so if you or your kids are in grades 7-12 and in the area, you should audition for DACYC – it’s a great group. I also really, really encourage folks to check out the Choir Camps put on by the Nova Scotia Choral Federation. Camp always brought me so much joy, and it let me meet so many amazing people (Clare Bustin if you read this, there is a 150% chance I mean you). Just go to camp, y’all. Bring your friends, send your kids, whatever. Go to Berwick for camp.

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2 thoughts on “Music as Healing

  1. What a nice post Steph.You always have a song in your heart and soul. Do many memories of Kaylee going to Choir Camp…you got her involved in that. Loved going to the show at the end. Don’t let your love of music ever die…let it guide you! Your experience at the airport is so important. There are many outlets for you.There are choral groups. It could be a church choir but it does not have to be.Sing with all your heart sweetie. I love you xox

    Liked by 1 person

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