Many argue that music is, in fact, NOT a universal language. The vast diversity of music around the world is astounding, and within each region, culture, and subculture, the "music language" varies greatly. While this is true, I would also add that the human tendency for music IS universal. We embody rhythm in our walking, sleeping, and waking and we communicate in melodic phrases and cadences.
In my experience as a music therapist, I have learned that one of the key factors for a successful music therapy experience is the relationship between the patient and the therapist. Often, my patients struggle to communicate with their family, friends, and caregivers. Cultural and language barriers also pose a great challenge to developing relationships. Despite this, music provides a new language with which to connect.
During a short-term mission trip to India last summer, I experienced a beautiful moment in which music bridged a gap between language, age, and culture.
The summer team and I visited a home for older adults that is run by a gracious group of Roman Catholic nuns. This place is for seniors who have no family, or whose family cannot care for them. In India, the family structure is very important, and children are expected to care for their parents in the home when they become frail. However, sometimes families are unable or unwilling to care for their elders. It is difficult to find assisted living and retirement facilities like we have in America, and often, there are many people who fall through the cracks of society. As I walked down the hallway, I noticed a blind, frail woman leaning against her doorway sobbing to Martha (the Project India facilities manager). The woman spoke only Telugu, so I asked Martha to translate. She was weeping because her children had left her, and was separated from her family and her home. I felt her distress, and I asked if I could sing for her. She accepted, and proceeded to squat down to the ground, with palms together in the middle of her chest. As she listened to the Telugu lyrics, her sobs decreased and a gentle smile came across her face. When I finished, she repeated “Vandanalu” (“Thank you”) and bowed over and over again. The song was simple, but I sensed that the connection between us was a blessing to her, as well as me.
During my short visits to Mori, India in 2013 and 2016, I experienced many of these unplanned, beautiful moments in which music helped build a relationship. Through these connections, I felt God inspiring me to return to serve the community through music. I will be staying in Mori for a year, teaching music at Riverside School and doing community outreach music therapy. I look forward to what God has in store for me, and I plan to share my stories here on my website. Subscribe to my mailing list, so you don't miss an update!