Music Therapy Reaches Residents at a Fundamental Level


Photo Karen Graham.
Music Therapist Luke Lee Burton plays some old favourites accompanied by Centennial Place resident Al.

Centennial Place residents are fortunate to receive regular visits from an enthusiastic young man delivering a special form of therapy.  Luke Lee Burton leads group and individual sessions of Music Therapy for residents every other week.  He brings with him extensive training as a musician and therapist, armed with a Master’s degree in Music Therapy from Laurier.  Yeah, he didn’t know such a thing existed either but once he did, the decision to enrol was easy—he knew it was right for him.

Music therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music intervention to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional like Luke.  The program he took at Laurier relies on extensive on-site clinical training where students interact with diverse clients including those with learning disabilities, autism and special needs of all ages.

These sessions bear many benefits.  Music therapists assist clients improve in several areas of health, including cognitive functioning, motor skills, emotional development, and social skills, but the most obvious benefit is the joy the music brings to them.  Clients do not have to actively participate in producing music to benefit from it.  In the Fireside lounge at Centennial Place last month, Luke and a resident quickly attracted others who were drawn to the musical interlude, some suggesting the next song for their performance, but all wearing broad smiles.

Sessions like the one in the lounge often rely on old favourites to reach deep into the memories of participants who may have lost some verbal skills, but can still play or sing songs they learned in their youth.  Luke approached Al, a resident of the home, in his room, encouraging him to bring out his guitar and join him in song.  It’s a guitar Al purchased as a teenager using the proceeds from his first job.  He knows the instrument well.  Without looking down to see his fingers, he quickly picked up the songs Luke initiated, including She’ll be Coming ‘Round the Mountain, and Goodnight Irene, smiling softly.

In other sessions Luke uses improvisation to stimulate participation.  Equipped with simple instruments, he engages his clients as they forget to be self-conscious, and go with the flow, releasing frustration and expressing themselves freely.

This type of program is designed to develop clients’ potential abilities and enhance their quality of life to help address physical, emotional, intellectual, behavioural, or learning challenges.  At Centennial Place, it helps their clients deal with memory loss stemming from all sources of dementia.

It may seem like an odd choice for a young musician to choose to apply musical skills helping the elderly or disabled in this way instead of seeking the spotlight on a stage, but Luke finds it incredibly rewarding, and so do his clients. KG

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