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Amos Lee: My Page (Music as Medicine)

by Amos Lee on March 25, 2011

Photo by Harper Smith

Five years ago, I was approached by friends at radio station WXPN in Philadelphia to become involved with an organization called Musicians on Call. MOC connects those who are in hospitals and hospice care with musicians who are interested in performing at the bedside of patients who are otherwise too ill to leave their rooms. I was a little wary at first, not because I didn’t feel drawn to the mission, but rather because it seemed like such a sensitive time for people and their families. I felt my presence might be a bit extraneous.

What I missed in my calculation was that it wasn’t me that was going to the hospitals – it was me and the music that I make. As I have come to find, people tend to value my presence a lot more when I have a guitar.

Since I was first introduced to MOC five years ago, I have made quite a few visits. I have played and sang at general hospitals, children’s hospitals and veterans’ hospitals. Every visit has etched deep visions in my soul. Here is one of my most memorable visits

It was MOC’s first visit to this particular veterans’ hospital and my friend Mutlu and I were asked to be the ambassadors for the program. Most of the elderly patients here served in the Korean and Vietnam wars.

I like to pick appropriate material, but I’m not as versatile as I’d like to be with knowledge of “pre-war” songs. We did “Lovely Day” by Bill Withers, “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley and “Bring It on Home to Me” by Sam Cooke. We went room to room and, for the most part, I think we warmed some hearts. A lot of the time, families would be with their loved ones and we would walk by and respectfully ask if they’d like some music. Based on our fairly random and somewhat uninspired selection of clothes, they were usually hesitant, but as soon as we started singing, heads would turn.

As the day was ending, we made a stop to one final room. This room was occupied by an elderly African American man with a beautiful gray beard. The nurses explained to me that he was unable to move much do to maladies and complications from his time served but that he was a musician and had recorded earlier in his life. We entered his room gingerly and the nurse asked if he would like us to play. He nodded softly and we went into “Bring It on Home to Me.”

When the song started, he was staring at the ceiling. And from what I was imagining, he was hoping these silly fellows would finish up and leave him be. But as we got into the tune, I noticed him arch his eyebrow, tilt his head ever so slightly and start to bob his head a little to the rhythm. After the song, he smiled at his nurses and said that, "We’re allllriiight. "

I asked if he had anything he wanted to hear and he inquired if I knew any church songs. I knew a few and chose to sing “Up Above My Head” by Sister Rosetta Tharpe. I got through the first verse, which is the only verse I knew, and noticed that he had started to sing softly with us. By the end of the next go round, he was almost full voiced – harmonizing in a rich, velvety baritone that gave me chills and made me want to cry at the same time. After the third time singing through that verse, he stopped and I wondered if he was done with the experience – instead he informed me that I had forgotten a verse or two. He peeked over at his nurse and gave her a wink. She started to laugh.

I asked if he’d teach me the verses – which he did – and we all three sang those last two verses together, with the nurse clapping right along. When we were done singing, I thanked him for teaching me the song properly and walked out of the room humbled not only by his strength, but also by his patience, wisdom and willingness to open up to us.

There are times when I am on the road feeling low, rundown or lost that I recall that moment, which was as true a moment as I have ever spent with music. It reminds me that music is not a means to an end but rather an ever-flowing body that nurtures us, challenges us and connects us all.

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Amos, You are a true minstrel of our time.  Love your music and what you are doing.  Please keep it up.

By Cheryl Stadt - 03/26/11

What an incredible story!! If you ever wonder why his music connects with people in such a way ...this is exactly why ..! I love his writing and his voice is amazing….A very talented musician…

By Angela Gomez-Hodgson - 03/26/11

Just one more reason Amos is and should be so well respected by his fans. Music with a purpose!

By Matt Rath - 03/28/11

nothing touches a soul like music…...what a joy you are my sweet Amos Lee..

By Sheila Maness - 03/28/11

What a beautiful story, and a wonderful way to share your gift with others! Some say laughter is the best medicine, but I believe music is every bit as therapeutic, don’t you?

By Kristin Cruser - 03/28/11

Thanks so muchl for sharing this wonderful story. It brings your beautiful concert in Amsterdam even more in perspective.

By Henk - 03/28/11

I just recently discovered Amos Lee’s music.  I absolutely love this man’s music and now love the man himself.  What a great human being!

By Ky woman - 03/28/11

Beautifully written, I was teary throughout. What an honor to bless those people in their transition with your voice & guitar, an honor for you & them… so beautiful.
I watched a person die, I sat close as he left. It was stunning to see him smile at something from the other side & turn his own head & leave his body. It was grandpa and I can only imagine how he would’ve felt hearing one of his favorites by Sam Cooke, sung by you…
another hard core fan grin

By Erin Lofton - 03/28/11

Oh Amos…It is so true that music is like a nutrient, that flows through us and connects us all in a very spiritual way. It doesn’t have to be a church song either…. It can be an experience or a time from our past that it stirs, or an experience or time we WANT to reach that it touches and moves within us. I found you by accident on youtube 4 weeks ago..I live in KY and tried to get tickets to see you in Indianapolis last night but it was sold out. I have NEVER felt so connected with an artists music before!!!!! Thank you, AMOS..for me you are a true GOD’s send!

By Linda Metzger - 03/28/11

Nuclear power can not compare with the power of music!!!
That just brought tears to my eyes.

By Christopher Scanlan - 03/29/11

As I read your story, I know your blessed with the gift of hope, of what was and may be. Whether your in a hospital with your memories or your just out in that world that sometimes is so cold, it’s good to know someone can express to another Human Being in a melody that you are here, I know it and acknowledge you.  You are Welcome into My Heart.  Thank you for your story.

By T - 03/29/11

You give so much to so many with your music Amos.  Thank you!!

By KC McQuillan - 04/17/11
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