Music, A Therapy That Holds Families Together

Music: A Therapy That Holds Families Together

Playing music and singing can hold families together.

Does your family have a life-glue?  Certainly love holds families together, but what else can?

It could be bricks and mortar: your family home, a small lake cottage; it could be a date on everyone’s calendar for the annual family reunion.

Music: a family member            

For far-flung families like mine, who maybe took the “wings” part of roots and wings to an extreme—it’s music.  Classical, jazz, pop, blues, rock & roll—we love it all and share it with each other.  Music is another family member, always present when we are together.

Music: front and center

Often front and center, music is always part of family gatherings: my son or nephew play the guitar and we all sing; my grandchildren dance to the latest playlist my daughter has made; I sing a favorite carole at the holidays and others join in; or we all grab shakers and toy “band” instruments and make up our own crazy melody.  My brother Bill, a music producer and promoter, often honors family members by writing a song for them—a great gift and privilege.  Variety is present as we all have favorites: songs, operas, symphonies and of course artists and singers.  And we share them.  Music is in our homes, our cars—our blood.

Music: part of daily life

At my wedding, I took the microphone and sang “The Look of Love” to my husband. At my mother’s 80th birthday party, we serenaded her, and of course we had dance music at my daughter’s wedding, but cousins and siblings also sang and played the guitar for her.

We aren’t the sons and daughters of musicians.  But my grandmother knew music was a gift and made sure her children had violin, voice and piano lessons.  My mother’s amazing voice entertained us on long road trips.  She drove and sang Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and Rodgers and Hammerstein.  Every note, every lyric stayed with me.  As a young mom I tried to hit the high notes of Streisand’s “Evergreen” while washing the dishes.  My daughters traveled to Europe with high school choirs; my son entertained many as lead saxophonist in the Jazz Band.  Between my husband and my brother John, the identification of any classical piece occurs after just hearing a few measures.  And my son sends me YouTube links to share his wide knowledge of songs and artists.

Music: memories of life’s journey

Music for many of us accompanies our life journey, the positive and the negative too.   Hearing a song takes us back to the excitement of new love or the sorrow of a breakup.  One of the first clues I had that my mother was developing dementia occurred when I played Rod Stewart’s The Great American Songbook for her and she was unable to sing along, to even really register that she knew the amazing lyrics to Someone to Watch Over Me, which had been her signature song.

My mother, a catalyst for all this music love, now suffers from dementia.  The facility where she lives knows that music relaxes, eases pain, and can even promote sleep.  But sadly for my mother, music cannot always open the door of memory and evoke life experience.

But many times when I visit her, she and the other residents are listening to old sing-along songs or love songs.  I hope some fragment of memory is awakened as she hears Tommy Dorsey’s Big Band;  I hope she again dances in her velvet cape with my father at a splendid old hotel in Chicago.

Music: communication therapy

Music often talks from one generation to the next.  The Beatles held sway over the sixties and boomers were amazed and excited as the music evolved.  My mother was right there listening and commenting.

We took our children to see Ravel and Debussy ballets, but also encouraged their attendance at Lollapalooza.

Do you know what your grandchildren or children are listening to on their iPods? Ask them.

A troubled teen plugged into his music can be calmed and soothed.

A terminally ill child can find music a journey-maker or a wonderful distraction.

Every day researchers are discovering concrete reasons that support the age old saying:

Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast… William Congreve

To learn more about how music can help patients with dementia or patients who are terminal read:

Music as a Therapeutic Resource in End-of-Life Care
Beth Perry Black PhD, RN
Patricia Penrose-Thompson MA
Journal of Hospice and Palliative Nursing 
March/April 2012
Volume 14 Number 2
Pages 118 – 125


Music, A Therapy That Holds Families Together

I hope she again dances in her velvet cape with my father at a splendid old hotel in Chicago.


8 thoughts on “Music, A Therapy That Holds Families Together

  1. I remember with great fondness an LP named “The Family All Together” featuring a Normal Rockwell style painting on the cover of the typical family of four gathered around the record player doing different things but at the same time all listening to the music which had gathered them into a shared experience. How sweet, such moments!

    • And I have that cover at home, just waiting to give it to you!!! I practiced being a flower girl by parading around to Mendelssohn in the living room. And PETER PAN, we used to fly around the room; mom had to move furniture. Much love, Beth

  2. I can’t imagine life without music. Thank you for reminding us of the journeys we can take by listening to music, not to mention the things we learn by opening ourselves up to new music and artists as we make our way through life.

    I have to believe your elegant parents will dance again “at the splendid old hotel in Chicago”.

    • Hi Avis,

      So good to get your comment. Yes, my mother talked about the elegant dates she had with my father. Her singing as we drove from Chicago to DC included many love songs and though I loved hearing them a sense of sadness often touched me too. Beth

  3. Dear Bethie,

    This article rings so true with me. Music has been a huge part of my life, and it all started with our family. From listening to the 45’s that Mr. Mullen used to send over, to Ahmal and the Night Visitors, then “Victory At Sea” in stereo, and of course the Beatles. It is the tonic one often needs when something in your soul needs healing. Your article offers a solution to families who need to find something in common that binds them together and can lead them to years of love….music.


    • Victory at Sea! Forgot about that one. And that Mr. Mullen shared the 45’s he was djaying! Were there any good ones?? Reminded John that we literally flew around the living room listening to PETER PAN. And of course there was the Record Guild where we learned the classics as they were put into stories or made into songs. Terrible and Sad, Pooh, because Eeyore has lost his tail! Thanks, Beth

  4. This is so true about music. Even though my family had its fair share of dysfunction we always got together blissfully over music. My father played guitar and always made sure anyone who entered the front door got involved in our jam sessions. As a child I learned to play trumpet and my father turned me on to big band swing and had me carefully listen to and learn the horn riffs shouted out in the background. While we were only 5 or 6 my father would have us listen with him to the opera Madam Butterfly. We all loved the song “Un Bel Di”. I had no idea what any of it meant (until much later in life), but the feeling and power behind it mesmerized us. I remember the big Northeast power outage sometime in the mid 60’s. We lived on Long Island and were affected as well. Our entire family sat around the kitchen table with lighted candles, various instruments and percussion implements playing music and having the greatest fun without TV or even the concept of computers. I have wonderful, deep feelings associated with those times.

    • Hi IJ,

      So good to hear from you. And you just created a scene for me that I will not forget. Music binding you all together despite the storm. As for Puccini and Un Bel Di, that’s another aria (song) that my mother could sing. My husband absolutely loves opera (and I love Puccini) so when ever it is playing, the tears just stream down my face. I think of my mother and all that she gave me and now all that she has lost. There will be music at her funeral. There will always be music binding our family together. Thanks so much for your comment. Beth

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