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Redemption Songs: Music Beyond Medicine

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If you're reading this - which, well, you are - I'm guessing that you have known what it is like for music to redeem a situation. Whether that situation was a dodgy car journey, or a break-up, or a rotten day at work, I bet there's been a time when you knew exactly what song to put on, or when you raised your hands to the heavens in gratitude that the DJ had dropped that banger just when you needed it.

Imagine then, that you're the mother of a fine young man who's just been hit by a speeding taxi. Or you're his mate, or his dad. He is in a coma. You wait by his bed, your only music the regular beeping from the heart monitor, and you think, "Where do we go from here?". And yet, by some power you don't understand, the fine young man pulls through. The forces of medicine, nursing, rehabilitation and music gather around him and he begins to come back to you.

Um, uh, wait.

Medicine? Sure. Nursing? Yep. Rehab? Gotcha. But how exactly is music going to redeem this one? As a music therapist who has worked in exactly this situation for a long time, I can admit that not only have families asked me this, I've asked myself the question too. Sometimes things just seem beyond redemption.

It is a matter of faith that music therapists stand at the bedside, armed with maybe a drum or a guitar, observe the breathing of the young man in the bed, and make their first note. It's also a leap of faith when parents, partners and children invite us to stand there. And - despite the growing evidence within medical science that describes what we're doing - it's still a matter of faith that we're given that place by the bed at all.

But this place by the bed is built on centuries of social practices, and has been informed in recent decades by research that shows how music therapy works. Music therapy occupies an incendiary place in medicine because it can stand next to the doctor, the nurse and the physio, and it can reach beyond them into the wilds. When a person is, literally, in extremis, music can be there with them, and can call them back.

You'll see a beautiful account of this in the short animated film which has just been released by Nordoff Robbins, the UK's leading music therapy charity. It tells the story of Ed who, at 20 years old and studying to be a pilot at Leeds University, was hit by a speeding taxi. Against all odds, after six months in a coma, Ed survived. In the film, you'll see Ed come back from the brink, accompanied by music therapist Jessica. On each step in Ed's journey, Jessica finds music that is right there with him; and also maybe just one step ahead, calling him on and showing him what he can do next. Together they are in medicine and totally beyond it.

Jess is my friend, actually. She taught me a lot. Her practice is funded by Nordoff Robbins, and I have seen myself the impact she has in the hospital. People like Ed - and their families - depend on the charity's funds to maintain this extraordinary redemptive work. When music transforms a life, it transforms the lives around it too.

So if you know how music has redeemed a situation in your life, however small, watch this movie. Share it. Respond to it. Because sometimes redemption songs are all we ever have.

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