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Music

By a happy accident of life, Gerry Snyder and Jan Lewis, who were gal pals in Louisville’s Schnitzelburg neighborhood half a century ago, are now friends again, playing games and having fun in the same building where they attended school so long ago.

Music therapists ease pain and improve lives

By a happy accident of life, Gerry Snyder and Jan Lewis, who were gal pals in Louisville’s Schnitzelburg neighborhood half a century ago, are now friends again, playing games and having fun in the same building where they attended school so long ago.

Their old school, St. Elizabeth of Hungary Catholic Church, closed and reopened as the MUSCL Senior Wellness Center on Burnett Ave., and the two girlfriends, now seniors, meet there to talk about old times and experience new ones. They’re also part of a special music therapy group there that practices and performs song programs of popular older tunes on hand chimes. They call themselves the "Ding-A-Lings."

For the seniors, it means fun. But for Shannon Bowles, the sessions are serious business. Bowles is assistant professor and interim director of the music therapy program in UofL’s School of Music. (The program’s director, Barbara Wheeler, is on sabbatical.)

Bowles works with UofL clinical faculty colleagues and music therapy students to collaborate to provide music therapy services throughout the Louisville area.

Art therapy Studies have shown that music therapy can ease the mind and lessen pain following surgery. The presence of soothing music can aid in recovery. For healthy seniors, music improves quality of life and cognitive abilities. Playing instruments can improve hand and grip strength, elbow range of motion, eye coordination and movement, the ability to listen, and provide needed social stimulation to create an improved sense of well-being.

Often, music therapy is used in conjunction with progressive muscle relaxation techniques.

Patients recovering from knee surgery, for instance, will undergo painful physical and occupational therapies. Bowles and colleagues talk to the patients about the severity of their pain and then use a combination of music therapy techniques to ease it.

Therapists may sing, strum on guitar or even merely hum—whatever suits the patient or situation. Some people prefer songs that remind them of their youth, some prefer religious melodies.

"We try to get the patients really involved in the music so that they’re not focused on their pain," Bowles adds.

Even though UofL’s music therapy program doesn’t offer a graduate degree, its bachelor’s degree program has trained many productive members of the profession.

One of them is Jenny Branson, who completed an equivalency degree through UofL’s music therapy program in 2004. She now works as a music therapist at Norton Audubon, frequently collaborating with Bowles to plan clinical training of students as well as clinical services at the hospital.

Along with preparing a new generation of therapists, Bowles says the program spurs new knowledge. In working with seniors, for instance, Bowles studies show music improves their quality of life. That ties into the dissertation research she is doing while pursuing her doctoral degree in gerontology at the University of Kentucky.

"I’m looking at ways that seniors can keep active and engaged instead of being institutionalized or being depressed and alone at home, and music is part of that," Bowles says.

If the Ding-A-Lings are any indication, it seems to be working.

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