Yumiko Sato Music Therapy

Journey Into Wholeness

Power of music

OshiroibanaMusic has always been an important part of my life, and I knew in an abstract term that there was something magical about music.  But I didn’t fully understand the power of music until I began working as a music therapy intern at hospice.

One of my first assignments was to work with a man whom we call Herb.  He was a former jazz singer who was suffering from the end stage of dementia.  For a few months I visited him in a crowded nursing home once a week.  Herb was often irritable and restless, making it difficult for anyone to communicate with him; however, he was still able to remember the songs from his past.  When I sang old tunes, such as “What A Wonderful World” on a guitar, Herb would calm down, smile, and clap his hands.  Through music we were able to make a meaningful connection.  That itself was a miracle, but what followed was even more unexpected.

One day Herb sang a song for me for the first time, even though he had always refused to do so by saying, “I can’t sing any more.”  As he sang a slow jazz song in his low voice, I saw him for who he really was – a jazz singer, a husband, a father, a navy veteran, and above all a kind man.  Beyond the terrible disease, there was a whole person.

Two days later Herb died rather suddenly.  This came as a shock to his family and hospice staff including myself.  We were sadden by his death but found peace in knowing that he was himself again even for a brief moment during his last music therapy session.

Music is a dynamic force through which we can connect with people without words.  Herb was my first patient who taught me the power of music, a memorable person whose story inspired me to begin writing down my observations and thoughts about living and dying.


Sato, Y (2009). The Last Song. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy.



2 comments on “Power of music

  1. Pingback: What Is Community in Music??? | Music for the Community

  2. Teal Ashes
    January 5, 2014

    What a beautiful gift for his family (and for those of you assisting them in his care) to have “found peace in knowing that he was himself again even for a brief moment.”

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