Concert in the ICU

Inside ICU room 34* of our hospital, there is an ongoing musical performance. One young man is playing an instrument and another young woman is singing.

Music therapy is a burgeoning field of science. We have known since the history of man, that music has a healing property. During Biblical times, young David was summoned to play his harp whenever King Saul of Israel was stressed and troubled. Pythagoras, Plato and Aristotle all wrote about how music affects health and behavior.

Now, modern science and current medical studies back this up. In Harvard’s Health Blog, one article mentioned that music therapy can aid pain relief, reduces side effects of cancer therapy, restores lost speech in people who suffered stroke, and improves quality of life for dementia patients among other benefits.

One study from Austria conducted in General Hospital of Salzburg, has found that patients who are recovering from back surgery had increased rates of healing and reported to have less pain when music was incorporated into their rehabilitation process. I consider Austria a leading authority in music science, after all that’s the country where great classical composers like Mozart, Strauss, Schubert, Czerny and Haydn all came from.

Several years ago, when I was doing my Critical Care Medicine training in New York City, we had a music therapy team that plays to our patients in the ICU. The team, composed of a flutist, a violinist and a cellist, would go from room to room in the ICU and would play for about 5 to 10 minutes in each room. Even if the patient was medically sedated or comatose, they would do it anyway. It was soothing for us medical staff as well, when they come, as we got to listen to their music.

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ICU music therapy (image from wakingtimes.com)

Since music therapy is the in-thing right now, I even told my daughter to look into a career in this field, that is if she would be interested, since she is pursuing a music degree. Perhaps I can have my own therapy someday.

Back to our ICU 34, the mini-concert though is not done by our hospital’s music therapy team, for we don’t have an official team like that as of yet. The music is being performed by the patient’s son and daughter who are both college-age and are both enrolled in music degree.

The son is playing his French horn, and the daughter is singing. The daughter even composed a special song for her mother, our patient, and would sing it for this special occasion.

However, their mother, who is only 44 years of age, is not going to wake up again. Not even with the beautiful music rendition from her children or any music therapy session on earth for that matter. She suffered a devastating head bleed which caused her to be in perpetual comatose with no hope of meaningful recovery. She is just being kept alive by life-sustaining machines.

The whole family agreed, that their mother would not choose to live a life in a vegetative condition like this. So they decided that they will take her off all life support. But only after they perform their mini-concert in her presence. They would like to dedicate their music as a send off, as she passed on beyond this world.

Sometimes music can be a therapy too for the broken-hearted and for those who are left behind.

(*ICU Room number was purposely changed)

 

Once Upon A Time

Not too long ago while walking at the mall, I was captivated by the music being played. You might ask, on what occasion does mall music captivating? Many times the music is just blaring and quite annoying.

Not in this store. Actually I was in a large department store that you would consider old-school, a holdover from the classic era, if you will. Though it is in the mall, this particular store has a quiet and serene environment. The music is calming and not loud. Most of the time it is provided by a grand piano in the center of the store, near the escalators. And they employ a live pianist to play the piano.

So when I heard the certain song being played, I was drawn to the place where the piano was, to see the musician who was providing the music. Though I was not familiar with the tune, somehow it stroke a nostalgic chord.

When I came down the escalators, I was surprised when I saw the pianist.

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He was a bit older than what I was expecting. He was perhaps in his late 70’s or even 80’s. His mobility was not very good anymore, as substantiated by the presence of a walker beside the piano. Yet the dexterity of his fingers were still impeccable. And the emotion in his playing was still very much palpable.

I was enthralled that I had to sit down on one of the sofas near the piano so I can watch him a little longer. He has no notes or music piece that he was reading. He was playing by memory with his eyes closed. Perhaps he has played this song so many times, that he’s performing it all by finger or muscle memory. Yet I can feel the deep sentiments on those fingers as it runs through the piano keys.

Maybe he was reminiscing the good ole days. Maybe he was reliving bygone happy moments. Or maybe he was lamenting a lost Valentine’s.

What was the song? I didn’t know, so I asked him after he finished playing.

He answered, “Once Upon A Time.”

Such an appropriate piece.

(*photo taken with an iPhone)

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“Once Upon a Time” is a song composed by Charles Strouse, with lyrics by Lee Adams, from the 1962 musical All American. It has been sung by Bobby Darin, Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Tony Bennett and Bob Dylan among others.

Here’s a version by Alex Bird (taken from YouTube):

 

For all the lovers out there, including those who loved and lost, and who loved once upon a time, may you have a memorable Valentine’s.

No More Free Concerts

Last week, I took a day off from work, drove a couple of hours, travel more than a hundred miles, just to see a concert.

It was not a concert of one of those pop superstars, like Adele or Lady Gaga. Nor was it a concert of some well-known classical artist like Andrea Bocelli or Yoyo Ma.

It was my daughter’s concert. It was their university’s orchestra performance. And it was their first concert for this school year.

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I have seen my daughter play cello in the orchestra multiple times in the past. From her grade school days, to high school days, and to community orchestra. From the screechy-sound of beginners, to more polished tones of intermediate, to quite advanced.

Though this maybe the best group that she’s been a member so far. After all they were all music majors, both undergraduate and graduate students. As far as I am concern, they can be considered “professional” musicians now.

We knew back then, that when we introduced our little girl to music, that she has a special attachment to it, and we cannot deny the fact that she has a gift for it. So it was no surprise that that was the career path she chose to pursue. Even though honestly, I tried to sway her to a different path.

I know as a parent, we wanted a secure future for our kids. So we prefer professions like engineer, or doctor, or lawyer. But what’s wrong with literature, or arts, or music, if that’s where our child’s passion is? Success should not be gauge only on how much money we can earn, but also on the satisfaction and joy on doing what we love to do.

It was heartwarming to witness that my daughter is getting very skillful on the cello, as well as playing with the orchestra. But playing cello is not even her major. She’s majoring in another instrument. A much larger instrument, the piano. So there will be more concerts and recitals to attend to.

All those years of music lessons are finally paying off. We’re proud as well that our homeschooling “experiment,” (we homeschooled her from kindergarten to high school) was a success. All of our worries that her education was not adequate, were all appeased.

Now, my daughter is not merely surviving, but thriving in college. She even was granted a good scholarship that covers her college tuition, so we only have to pay for her food and dorm. With the cost of college education ever on the rise, ranging from $10,000 per year in state universities (for in-state residents) to $50,000 or more per year in private and more expensive institutions, getting a college degree these days can definitely break the bank.

Back to the concert. Though some of the selection they played were kind of hypnotic to me, I was able to stay awake through the concert. Over all it was fantastic. After the final bow, the audience were up on their feet. The only gripe I have on the concert is that it was not free. Sorry, I’m cheap.

But I get it. It helps support their university’s music program. Besides, the quality of their performance was superb that the concert was even recorded, and maybe aired one of these days on a public radio station. Definitely worth paying for.

So for the first time, I bought a ticket just to see my daughter perform. But I’m OK with that.

I wonder, would I have to pay a more expensive ticket when it’s time for her solo piano performance?

Dreamy Ukulele

Last summer when we went home to the Philippines, a family gave us ukulele made from Cebu. Not just one, but two. They said one for each of my kids. Though they said I can borrow it too if I want to.

It is a known fact that Cebu is the center of guitar manufacturing in the Philippines, boasting  that among the best guitars not just nationally, but international as well, were made there. Cebu is known to be one of the finest crafters of ukulele too. Definitely we got two beautiful and good-sounding ukuleles.

I don’t know how to play the ukulele, but I believe it is simple enough to learn. I have played another 4-stringed instrument in the past, the violin, and I think ukulele is much easier to play than that. Or so I thought.

One of my favorite song that is played with the ukulele is “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” by the late Hawaiian singer Iz Kamakawiwo’ole. I just love his version of that song with the certain “island-feel,” the care-free strumming, and his dreamy rendition.

No wonder that is the first song I wanted to learn in the ukulele, in that distinct style. So after we got back from the Philippines last year, I searched on YouTube and watched some tutorials to learn it.

First thing to learn is the kind of strumming on this specific song. It is called “island strumming.” But for the life of me, I can’t get it. I guess I am not coordinated enough. My left hand can do the chords with not much hitch, but my right hand just cannot keep up with the right rhythm of the strumming.

Easy to learn huh? So I gave up.

I did not touch the ukulele again for several months until a few weeks ago.  My daughter’s music teacher said that it will be nice to have a number that will be different and special if in my daughter’s recital, I play the ukulele while she plays the cello. What song? “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” of course!

I took on the challenge. Besides my son will also play with us, playing the other ukulele. So he can carry me if in case I mess up, right?

So I practiced, and practiced some more. Soon I had my right hand perfecting the “island” strumming. I can transition between chords with ease. I can do it with my eyes closed. I can even do it in my sleep. Maybe not.

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The day of the performance came.

As I was strumming on the ukulele, I tried to imagine that we were in a beautiful tropical island, under the swaying palm trees, with the warm breeze blowing, the waves softly lapping on the beach, and we’re lost in a care-free world somewhere over the rainbow.

Off course I got lost in my chords too, but my daughter and son played beautifully that nobody even noticed my slips.

(*photo taken by our friend)

Long Awaited Concert

When I came home today, I was greeted by a high-pitched humming music. The sound was loud enough that I felt the whole neighborhood was buzzing.

No, it was not an out-of-control orchestra. Nor a marching band that went bonkers.

It was a mass choir of cicadas.

As I went out in our yard, I really felt the vibrating noise, especially when I walked under the trees. I saw cicadas everywhere.

On the tree.

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On the grass.

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And even on my hand.

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There are many species of cicadas. What is appearing this time here in Iowa is the 17-year variety of these noisy insects. That means this certain species had disappeared for a long time. For seventeen years they have vanished out of sight and lived under the ground in hushed darkness.

But now they are out. They have emerged. And in swarm.

swarm of cicadas on our tree

swarm of cicadas on our tree

After long years of silence they are singing their song. Happily and loudly. At least it is better than the song I heard recently from the Philippine senate that was part of a privilege speech.

Humans sing when we stretch and vibrate our vocal cords. Crickets produce their sound by rubbing their wings. Cicadas on the other hand sing by vibrating two ribbed membrane in their belly, and their hollow abdominal cavity amplifies the sound greatly. Some species can register more than 100 decibel when singing. Come to think of it, my belly also rumbles loudly when I am hungry.

And what are these chirpy cicadas singing about? It is actually a love song. They are calling for their mate. Some love songs can make you cry. Some love songs can pierce your ears.

With all the throng of merry cicadas singing, I admit the sound can be deafening. But I will enjoy this special concert while it last. For I have to wait another seventeen years to listen to this remarkable event.

Here’s a sample of their lively music.

 

‘Round Here

‘Round here, we’re carving out our names, ‘Round here we all look the same, ‘Round here we talk just like lions, but we sacrifice like lambs…..

Those lines were from the song ‘Round Here by the Counting Crows. I first heard it about 20 years ago. It mirrored the circumstances I was in. A time when I just arrived ’round here. A time when I began to carve out my future and my name. But in that pursuit, I left my beloved country and sacrificed almost everything.

Music is intertwined in our lives. From the time our ears were open, from the time of our birth, or even when we were still inside the womb, and up to our dying days, we listen to music.

Many of the songs we learned to treasure may not be because we love them initially, but  maybe because of the situations or events that are associated with them, when we first heard them.

For instance, when I listened to songs of Tears for Fears, or Duran Duran, or Spandau Ballet, it brings back memories of my high school and college days.

One specific song, a remake of “Crying in the Rain” by Aha, reminds me of that particular day when I was walking across our university’s soccer field. My PE teacher forced me to drop out from his class for a “mistake” that I did not commit. I was close to tears, and of course it was raining. But maybe that’s a separate story I’ll write someday.

Then when I listened to Hootie and the Blowfish, or Counting Crows, or the Cranberries, this make me think of the time when I transition from the Philippines to the US. It was also during that time that I listened and learned to like the Eraserheads, a Filipino rock group, as it became my sort of connection to the country that I left behind.

I listen to music most of the times. Especially when I am alone.

Once a month, I go to an outreach clinic, somewhere outside the city of Des Moines, that is considered rural Iowa. Even though the travel takes me about an hour and half, I really don’t mind the drive at all. The drive is easy with no traffic, passing through serene Iowa landscape of prairies and farm fields. This gives me a time alone to think while I listened to the music of my choosing.

Today, I picked Counting Crows as my music for my long drive.

One of their songs, Omaha, goes like this, “Omaha, somewhere in the middle of America.” It was interesting that when I first heard that song, I have no idea where Omaha is. But now I know exactly where it is. It is about 2 hours away where I am driving to.

My car is traveling at 70 miles per hour. My thoughts at 100 miles/hour.

The rain is pouring while my wipers beat in rhythm as the Counting Crows sings, “I am the rain king…” While the memories are also pouring.

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(*All songs mentioned of the Counting Crows were from their debut album August and Everything After)

Forgotten

I admit it. You’ve been out of my mind lately. Or more accurately, you’ve been out of mind, for a long time now. I’m sorry. I’ve been busy.

It’s not something that you’ve done. And no, it’s not that I’ve found someone new either. It’s just that I’ve lost that certain feeling. That certain enthusiasm. That’s certain thrill. Somehow it’s different now.

Then I saw you the other day. You seemed abandoned. You looked pleadingly into me, as if you’re begging me to hold you again. Longing for my touch. Imploring me to carry you in my arms once again. I know you felt forgotten.

I can only vaguely remember that we spent long hours together before. But we had so much fun together then. I have almost forgotten that once upon a time we made beautiful music together. Those were the good times. No. Those were the best of times. But that was many summers ago. That was when I was much younger. Now I hardly know you.

Again I’m sorry. I am really sorry. It’s not you. It’s all my fault.

But something sparked inside of me. I am again inspired. Maybe I still have it in me. Maybe I still have that touch. Maybe I can awaken that enthusiasm once more. Maybe I can relived that thrill once more. I know I may be rusty. I know I have lost my dexterity and virtuosity. But I know also that I can hone that mastery again.

I am looking forward to caressing you and lifting you into my shoulders. I would like to rest my head on your well-figured body. I would like to run my fingers in your long neck once again. I am excited to lovingly stroke your strings again. And maybe, just maybe, I can make you sing once more.

It would be such a delight to hear your voice again……..my forgotten violin.

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my forgotten love

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Even when I was much younger, I am used to having music on most of the time. In my room in Sampaloc, when I was in high school thru college, I had a small stereo radio with a cassette player that sits near my bed. It played instrumental music or light jazz when I am studying (I avoid music that will cause me to break into a song or make me sing-along when I am reading for that will disturb my concentration), and soft mellow music when I am ready to sleep.

If I am not studying or sleeping, my music can range from folk, rock, country, pop, gospel, and OPM’s (to which I freely sing-along). The music will drown the noise from our street, and most of the time, I would fall asleep with the radio on. The radio playing did not bother me at all, in fact it lulled me to sleep, especially during nights when sleep did not come so easily.

I don’t sleep with the radio on anymore. I have to consider the one I’m sharing the bed with now. My wife is a light sleeper and she easily gets awakened with noises, and a radio on will not let her sleep at all. Too bad she has to sleep with the noise of my snoring though. However, there are still nights that I cannot turn off my mind, or I can become restless, and sleep will not come to me. On these occasions, I put my earphones with my i-Pod or i-Phone on, and listen to my favorite music that will transcend me to La La land.

For a very long time, it has been observed that music can affect human behavior. In Biblical times, it was recorded that King Saul would call for David to play him his harp to soothe his troubled spirit.

In more modern times, research has shown that music with a strong beat can stimulate brainwaves to resonate in sync with the beat, with faster beats resulting sharper concentration and more alert thinking, while a slower tempo promotes a calm, meditative state. Music therapy is a growing field in health care and had been used in pain management, children with Attention Deficit Disorder, and even in ICU to help pacify patients. For some reason music appears to calm my restless leg syndrome as good as medication.

Not too long ago, I heard a version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” sang by this certain singer, that I really like. Then when we were in Hawaii several months ago, the tour guide mentioned this singer and I learned that he was from that island. He is Israel Kamakawiwo’ole (yes, that’s definitely an Hawaiian name).

It was sad though to learn that he passed away at an early age of 38, in 1997. He had health problems stemming from his weight, which at one point was more than 750 pounds. But that did not stop me from downloading his songs in my i-Phone. His “What a Wonderful World” is another favorite of mine, and he now sings me lullaby when I cannot sleep.

More recently, I heard from the radio a version of “Fields of Golds” that was an original song of Sting, who by the way is one of my favorite singers. But this specific rendition of the song captivated me, and so I looked for it and downloaded it also in my i-Phone.

I was intrigue why I have not heard of this female singer before, so I searched for her other songs in i-Tunes and I found most of them were really beautiful. Then I also found out that she had died back in 1996 from a malignant melanoma at such a young age of 33. Her name is Eva Cassidy.

What’s with me and dead singers? We’ll I guess I just like their songs, and it does not matter whether they are dead or alive. Eva Cassidy also now rocks me gently to sleep in my restless nights.

Here is Eva and Israel in their different versions of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Yes, both of them are really somewhere over there.

(videos from youtube)