During her last years, North Carolina Piedmont-style blues guitarist Etta Baker wasn’t able to play her beloved guitar much, and her banjo spent most of the time under her bed. She might spend a little time on the keyboard, and then would have to rest. It was during this time that Ernie Hawkins, another blues musician and a student of the Rev. Gary Davis, joined me in a visit to Etta’s home in Morganton, NC. She greeted us warmly, as always, but wasn’t up to playing music that day. So, Ernie pulled out his guitar and played for her. He played tunes she used to play, and others that she just enjoyed. After about an hour, when we needed to leave, she looked up at us with a huge smile on her face. “Music is good medicine.”

Her philosophy is one I take to heart, and it is one part of the massage that, while not always necessary or practical, can enhance the massage. Or the wrong music can take away from the joy. If my client has a musical preference, I try to honor it. Native American flute music, gentle piano or guitar music, George Winston covering the greatest hits of the Doors, nature sounds, Singing bowls, classical music. Although there is a lot of synthesized “spa music” available, and some therapists love the mindlessness of it, I prefer acoustic instruments as they are more soothing. One of my favorite compositions to play, especially if someone is stressed, is “The Amazing Jellies: Council of Sea Beings” by Berklee School of Music professor Ruth Mendelson. She was asked to compose music to accompany the jellyfish exhibit at the New England Aquarium. The resulting orchestral composition can best be described as “floaty”, as in you feel as if you are floating in water while listening. Her website even lists it as healing. [for more information: http://amazingjellies.com/index.html]

Other favorites include the guitar music of the late Pete Huttlinger and Ed Gerhardt, piano music by Asheville pianist and composer Richard Shulman, flute music by Grammy Award winner Carlos Nakai. He was the first Native American musician to win a Grammy. If you, dear reader, have other favorites for music in the massage room, please feel free to comment below. In the hospital setting, and sometimes hospice, music is not always practical, but when it is, it is always good medicine.

Share This