The Enlightenment and Healing Power of Music:
“Music is a world within itself
With a language we all understand
With an equal opportunity
For all to sing, dance and clap their hands"
(So says the lyrics of Sir Duke by Stevie Wonder.)
You asked for something funny, sad, embarrassing, happy, dramatic or anything that happened backstage or on-stage and I thought that this story of mine was a mixture of all these things and maybe a bit of inspiration thrown in for good measure.
It began in 1977 when I left the RSAF and music in Singapore to pursue my engineering education overseas in Scotland. On completion of my studies, I went headlong into a career in aviation.
Fast forward to 2011 and I was asked by my sister to visit her in Vancouver, Canada. It so happened that my sister and her husband were performing at night clubs and nursing homes as a duet, she on the Yamaha keyboards, he on the electric guitar and they had a Filipino male singer who occasionally sang with them.
Prior to my trip, I was intending to retire from front-line work to teach at a technical college in my engineering discipline. This trip was when my musical awakening began.
The first nursing home I visited with my sister; I was invited to sing for them. While I was getting set-up, I noticed an elderly lady sitting and just staring at me and looking rather unfriendly. I asked the nursing staff if it was alright for me to sing and they all told me that the lady has been a resident for about 6 months and is very unsociable. She never talks or socializes with any of the residents. She comes out for her meals and then returns to her room.
When the music started and I began to sing, she got up and started dancing with her walking frame and as I was ending my song – Arrivederci Roma, she grabbed my hand and asked for another song. I spoke to her and the sang – Besame Mucho to which she was as happy as ever.
When the gig was over, she asked me to come back and sing for her. I had to tell her that I was from Australia and was returning back home. At this time the care-givers were also stunned as she had opened up and was socializing – a happy and smiling person!!!
Well, music had the healing power that touched her mind and opened up happy times which she lost in the fogs of her mind.
On my return to Australia I left the music behind and carried on my aviation front line work and it was about a couple of years later when I was asked by my sister to help them with my singing as their regular singer was going overseas on a trip.
It was this time when the enlightening took place!!!
One of the gigs was at a Vancouver St Vincent – Langara Residence care home. I sang many jazz standards, pop and country songs and also got on the keyboards doing some R&B and Boogie beats with big-band sounds.
Throughout the concert, I noticed an elderly well-dressed lady who occasionally closed her eyes, was mouthing the words and drifting into the song I was singing.
When the concert ended, I walked over to her and introduced myself. She complimented me by saying:
"You sound just like Perry Como but like Frank Sinatra when you sing his songs. I have met them both and what I say is true.”
She also told me that I had the gift of music which she saw only once another time in her life. She introduced herself as Eve Duke and that she was the pianist and singer with the Duke Ellington Band. She said she would very much like to play the piano but her hands are shaking now and she is unable to sing anymore.
I helped her over to the Yamaha Tyros 5 keyboards and together we played some jazz songs and surprisingly her hands had stopped shaking and she was in her elements.
She had indeed risen up to the challenge and had come alive again and together we had a very memorable time.
Her final comments to me was “You made a very old lady feel young and alive again. You have the magic, son... You have the magic.”
On the way home we had a good laugh over her words and her living in the world of “Duke Ellington.” I passed off her comments as “a senior moment of dementia” and never thought much of it again.
A few days later, when I was searching the internet, I thought about Eve Duke and decided to search about her. Her real name is Yvonne Lanauze and she REALLY WAS the singer and pianist with the legendary Duke Ellington Band.
She sang Sophisticated Lady and Mood Indigo on a recording and can still be heard even today.
Yes, I was in the presence of Music Royalty and I didn’t even know it. She was indeed Duke Ellington’s pianist and here I was showing her my tricks when she could easily have laughed me away. Her final words to me did leave me thinking of my retirement future. I knew that “son you have magic” meant that music was the path I had to follow and make the seniors, with and without dementia, feel whole and alive again.
Just as a passing note, she now plays and entertains the seniors at her nursing home. She has become alive again!!!
What I did for her was something I felt she needed and that I could manage with my limited Tyros 5 keyboard experience. I left her feeling elated and in doing so I felt I had used my God-given talent to make a senior citizen alive again.
In conclusion, after retiring from aviation, I pursued my hidden musical gift and after much practicing I’m now doing it as a volunteer at nursing homes, spreading the magic of music – a therapy of living life that the fogs of dementia and age has enveloped the brain.
Yes, I’m doing what they sing “Grey skies are going to clear up... Put on a happy face!”
This is my journey to finding the true value and healing potential of the power of music – vocal and instrumental.
Here is the wrap-up of all that was requested in the brief you laid out for me. Hope it is inspiring enough.
Please provide some comments if you wish.
Article by Cedric Collars has been copyrighted for a book publication.
Images: Google and A Personal Collection from Cedric Collars. Copyrights Reserved.