music to our ears

All good things must come to end. Sorry, Karen, the fort is down.

So, I promised in the last post that I would write a bit about a musical visit we had with our friend Mendelt, a good friend who also happens to be a music therapist. He came to play piano for and with Rachel one afternoon.

Let me preface this time by explaining that in Rachel's first two years of life, she was more or less nonverbal. We hardly heard any sounds from her, with the exception of crying when she had bowel troubles and random "coos."

The day after Janneke was born - even though Janneke was in the hospital and Rachel had not met her, Rachel started making more sounds. She became even more vocal when Janneke arrived home. That was amazing to us!

Fast forward to June 2010 when Rachel was admitted into PCCU at Mac for intubation issues, serious trouble that arose from an otherwise normal MRI procedure -eight days of an incredible roller coaster of emotions.

When we took her home, she did not make a sound for a long time. It made us very sad to think that our little girl was so profoundly affected. Would we hear her voice again?

When her preschool therapy started in the fall, we started to see more smiles, and we heard a few sounds. This was very encouraging.

This past week, Mendelt came to play piano. He used a technique that we also use with toys or concepts. He repeated the same song over and over, and then he began to stop just before the end of the song. Rachel caught on to the game right away. You Are My Sunshine is the song we have sung to Rachel since birth. Mendelt played and sang this song to Rachel - and then he stopped at the last word. He waited.

The first time, Rachel started flexing her jaw, as if to attempt to say something. He sang the song again, and stopped at the last word again. "Please don't take my sunshine....."

Suddenly, Rachel started making a series of sounds as if to say, "I know the word, I know what to say!"

Her smiles were priceless, her sounds were beautiful.

And the crazy part? She didn't stop making sounds for the next 24 hours, save 6 hours for sleeping.

Here's a couple of photos from the video:

She leaned her head on his arm while he was playing.

What was Janneke's reaction to all of this?

Well, we did put her next to Mendelt at the piano, but she kept her solemn (I call her Opa) face on - no emotional reaction. She watched his hands move on the keys, and then she concentrated on her own hands touching the keys. When I had Janneke in the walker while Rachel was next to Mendelt, she kept banging into the piano stool.

Maybe she was irritated that she couldn't have the piano to herself? : )

So, yesterday, I thought I would borrow Mendelt's idea and take it one step further. I plunked out the melody to the same Sunshine song. I am nowhere near the artist he is, but I think Rachel still knew the song. I played the melody several times, and then I stopped at the last note.

I waited.

And here's the great part: Rachel reached her arm out, placed it on my arm, and pushed on my hand to play. She kept her hand there as I played the melody over and over (hence, the photo). I stopped before the last note, and each time, she would apply pressure for me to play.

This experience reminded me of the Friendship services my dad (a pastor) would lead with another ministry leader back in the late 80s. These special church services were designed to include all abilities, particularly youth and adults who were developmentally challenged. The singing was the best part. As teenagers, my friends and I thought this kind of church was cool! You couldn't help but smile at and be envious of the pure joy and freedom expressed in song.

I remember my dad telling me about a father of one of the disabled adults who spoke with him after one of the first services. This father said to my dad, "For the first time in my son's life, I am proud of my son." The music ministry opened this father's eyes to a love and pride for his child he had not yet experienced. I never forgot that.

There are some amazing stories of how music can heal, can penetrate a secret place of being within what appears closed. The power of music reminds us there is still so much we cannot see that is greater than us or our understanding.

For Rachel, music enables her to reach out and interact. It enables her to touch her mom's hand, to make others smile, and it gives her permission to make whatever sounds she can.

Music to our ears.


P.S. Thanks, Mendelt. Sorry the piano isn't tuned.