Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Besse Smith

Two weeks ago or so I drove the hour and a half to meet up with Alan, take him out for a snack, and then -- I presumed -- settle into a session of music making with Melinda.

But. When you're with someone like Alan, who lives "in his own world" -- a case where the cliche really fits -- you have to flexible and attuned. I think spending an hour with Alan is a lot like spending time with a very young person, whose non-verbal world, brimming with discovery, and indecipherable, keeps you guessing, and demands that you play the part of accompanist and follower.

After lunch -- a new place, run by Orthodox Jews, who are btw, usually extraordinarily tolerant of people with disabilities, but in this case, too disorganized to be tolerant or otherwise; seems they'd just opened their little cafeteria hours earlier -- I decided to drive slowly back to the house. We had some time to kill, and sitting around in the house living room is a little depressing. It's dark and unnaturally quiet, except for the buzz of the mid-afternoonn TV soaps. So, we tooled the back roads, going wherever...Someone who sounded a lot like Besse Smith was singing on the radio. Alan became as silent as I'd ever heard him, his eyebrows arched sky high, the plaintive wailing of Smith pinning him to his seat. He grew almost motionless, fixated, I believe, on her music, the likes of which I'm pretty sure he'd never heard.

Melinda was waiting for us by the time we arrived back at the house (a group home) and when we found our positions, this time around the dining room table, Alan was in no mood to drum, plink or strum. Melinda offered him everything -- the guitar, the glockenspiel, and a beautiful string of tiny chimes, that with only a light touch bursts into a sweep of tinkly sounds. She then took out of her bag .. her cymbals! Alan usually plays those cymbals hard, man. But on this afternoon, Alan flailed the baton in the direction of the drum, and then head promptly sunk into his chest, his eyes closed, and within a minute, he was sound asleep, I assumed, exhausted by the effort of listening to Besse.

On my drive home, as I thought about all this, it hit me. Listening to music, while slowly driving around -- was equally music therapy. Why does music therapy have to mean -- playing something? Can't it be just about listening, and loving it? Alan listened intensely. He listened with all his being, with his body, his eyebrows, his mind, his every cell. He had fallen asleep through exhaustion!

When I told Melinda my theory, she sounded only slightly convinced. I suggested that our next appointment, be a driving/listening session, with lunch at Applebee's thrown in. Melinda, being the adventurous soul she is, accepted in a heartbeat.

Stay tuned.

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