Written by Tom Rossi of Lights & Bridges
The idea of playing music for hospice patients never occurred to me until I settled back in NY after 11 months of expeditions to West Africa, Cuba and Brazil. While attending many secular and religious ceremonies, learning the languages and studying with some of the worlds greatest master drummers, I found these cultures shared a common thread that was incredibly inspiring. Music was interwoven through the fabric of society, serving a much more intimate and vital function than in the West. Beyond mere entertainment, music was medicine. It was a well-crafted means of catharsis and healing for both community and individuals.
Drawn to find or create this in my own American culture, the opportunity to play for my first hospice patient came during a six year training program at the IM School of Healing Arts in Manhattan. A schoolmate asked me to play guitar and sing for her lover dying of throat cancer. Of course, I was honored to, but also terrified not knowing what to expect. The school did not have a Music Therapy program, so I was totally on my own as to how to approach the situation.
Upon my visit, his discomfort was palpable and daunting. To see this man in bed with tubes coming out of his throat. Oxygen mask over his face. Yet, there he was, so present and ready to receive the music. I played and sang. Nervous, but took my time, for him.
My intuition was to improvise completely with him for what he needed in his body and his soul. He was at the precipice of his death and wanted to feel something bigger, beyond his pain. He wanted transcendence. I realized it was not about my performance, but maintaining an atmosphere of rich tones and soothing harmonies with my voice and guitar to support his experience. In this circumstance it didn’t matter what song I sang, or my virtuosity. It was the energy level and intention of my playing relevant to how he was responding.
To this day, it is one of the most profound experiences of my life, witnessing him fill so completely with joy during the session, despite his condition and discomfort. A giant tearful smile behind the mask and tubes. The room actually felt brighter from where he was sitting.
This initial experience, and the following seventeen years of making a living as a music therapist, specifically for terminally ill in hospice care, continues to have a major impact on my life and my approach to music. The intimacy with someone, at such a significant time in their life, is so intense, that it leaves room in the moment for only that which is true and serves from the highest love, and the deepest heart.
From the new Lights & Bridges EP, “Outside The Wall”, written over a period of several hospice sessions, and “Tears Of Gold” both express the feelings of transcendence I have with patients and that longing to connect and expand beyond the cycles of death and the physical world.
In the company of death, life shines ever more precious, revealing itself as the greatest and most sacred gift of all.
To quote wise words spoken by a patient during a session:
“Light is always looking for a home
and when it finds a place to dwell,
illuminates all in its presence.”