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Did you know that March is Music Therapy Awareness Month?
Cool stuff!
Did you know that the idea of “advocating for my profession” makes me super duper uncomfortable?

Well, it does. And here we are.

March. Music Therapy Awareness Month.
Guess I should, like, advocate?

I mean, okay, I know it’s important!
There’s a lot of misinformation about Music Therapy out there, and it’s in the best interest of our current and future Clients – not to mention our brothers and sisters in therapeutic arms – that the general public is made aware of what exactly Music Therapy is, and what it isn’t. Music Therapy is an evidence-based (founded in research) practice, carried out by collegiate-program-educated, board-certified – and (depending on the State) licensed – health professionals, who are called “therapists” for a reason. Namely, that they are, in fact, trained therapists.
We know this, but a lot of people don’t yet. And that’s okay!
We’re learning and spreading awareness together.

I think what makes me hesitate when it comes to advocacy is that I never want to come across as confrontational, defensive, or – Heaven forbid – hostile. I don’t want to be throwing immediate correction in the face of some poor bystander whose only crime was uttering the words, “musical therapy.” And my people-pleasing self would rather let someone continue in misunderstanding than step on toes and “rock the boat,” as it were. I go to the extreme in thinking that advocacy is automatically aggressive in nature. (It’s not.)

If you’re a Music Therapist, maybe you struggle in the same way.

Or maybe you’re one of those gung-ho, shoot from the hip, neon signs and billboards advocators. If so, more power to you!

For the rest of us,
I hope this blog will be an encouragement.
There really is a positive, affirming way to spread awareness and excitement about Music Therapy.
And for me, a good method was put into words by a friend while playing “Dungeons & Dragons.” (Yes, I am a nerd, and I am proud.)

Us fighting Music Therapy misconceptions.

My friend, who was the “Dungeon Master” – the head honcho, if you will – said that, in a game of role playing and improvisation, everyone brings something new and interesting to the story. So his job as facilitator is to have an attitude of “Yes And,” rather than one of “No But.” In other words, agreeing – if possible – with what is brought to the table and helping the player make the most of it – without derailing the game. Then contributing something new to help create the best experience for the players.

In my head, I’ve been afraid of “No But” advocacy. (And rightly so.)

  • “No, Music Therapy is not lying on a couch and listening to smooth jazz for an hour to relax. Why would you think that?”
  • “No, I don’t just teach my Clients how to play instruments. Then I’d be a Music Teacher, obviously.”
  • “These plebeians have no clue what it is I do, and therefore I must educate them.”

Feels rude just to write these kinds of responses here.
So I’ve avoided advocacy altogether.

The truth is, most people I talk to about my job have a genuine curiosity. Their questions and initial thoughts about what sessions could look like are valid!“Yes And” advocacy acknowledges the validity of these initial thoughts while contributing new, expanded knowledge on the subject.

  • “Yes, music is so powerful as a tool to help ease anxiety and shift mood states! And actually, did you know that research shows it can be even more effective to use Client preferred music than just ‘easy listening’?”
  • “You’re right! Learning instruments is a great way to practice motor skills, increase breath support, improve cognitive function – that really touches on a lot of the non-musical goals we might be addressing with a Client! The main difference is that the end goal for our Therapy sessions are those non-musical objectives, whereas a music lesson focuses primarily on the knowledge and ability to play the instrument itself.”
  • “These folks have a good head-start in understanding Music Therapy. Let me help them learn even more about it.”

Now that’s positive and affirming, and educational!

There are certainly times when a person may be convinced of something factually inaccurate regarding Music Therapy. And there are times when people might be spreading misinformation or attempting to advertise themselves as “Music Therapists” without any training or certification. In these moments, correction is necessary. “No” is not a bad word. But for those genuinely interested folks who just want to understand, an attitude of “Yes And” can make Music Therapy advocacy an enriching experience for everyone involved.

Thank you, Dungeons & Dragons, for helping me to see advocacy in a new, positive light.

– Written by Kevin Middlebrooks, LPMT, MT-BC, NMT

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It’s hard to believe that we’re already mid-way through February of 2019!
New Year’s Eve doesn’t seem so long ago. The promise of a new year, a fresh start, exciting possibilities… it’s more than enough to get the old motivational engine revved and roaring! Plans form, goals are etched in stone, and we feel certain that this year – really, though, this year! – we’ll stick to that New Year’s Resolution. We will not waver!

Alright so, show of hands:
Now that the excitement of the new year has begun to wane, how many of us are actually keeping up with those resolutions?

If your hand is raised, way to go! Keep it up!
[Bonus points if you literally raised your hand just now.]
If not, don’t beat yourself up. You’re in good company!

This blog is certainly not intended to make anyone feel bad about themselves.
If it were, what kind of a weird Music Therapy practice would we be?
This blog is rather an attempt to offer a – potentially – more effective method for those of you, like myself, who have a hard time maintaining those lofty resolutions.
I mean, who even keeps resolutions anyway?
[Ahem… Y’all just keep doing you, hand-raisers. You’re awesome.]
Instead, try S.M.A.R.T. Goals!

Yes, S.M.A.R.T. Goals – the very same type of goals that we like to set with our amazing Clients!
You may have heard this acronym before, but in case you haven’t, let’s review what it means, and look over some examples.

S – Specific
S.M.A.R.T. goals are specific. They can be explained in detail.
“I will exercise more.” Sounds a bit vague, huh?
How about… “I will go running for at least 30 minutes, two times a week.”
That’s getting specific!
“Client will improve articulation.” In what way?
How about… “Client will practice bilabial consonant sounds five times per session.”
Now we’re talking.

M – Measurable
S.M.A.R.T. goals are measurable. We can keep track of them.
“I will drink more water.” How much?
How about… “I will drink five 18oz bottles of water each day.”
Sounds good!
“Client will improve short-term memory.” How can that be measured?
How about… “Client will recall at least 4 of 6 notes in a melodic sequence.”
That’ll work!

A – Attainable
S.M.A.R.T. goals are attainable. They are realistic and within reach, given the effort.
“I will be a famous actor on Broadway.” Maybe someday! What steps can you take now?
How about… “I will audition for the local production of The Little Mermaid next month.”
Totally doable.
“Client will walk independently, without assistance.” Admirable goal! But let’s take it one step at a time – literally.
How about… “Client will independently take 8 steps using a cane, by March 31, 2019.”
Challenging, but within reach.

R – Relevant
S.M.A.R.T. goals are relevant.
They have something to do with the area on which you’re focusing.
“I want to read more, so I will go swimming twice a week for three months.” Wait, what?
How about… “I want to read more, so I will join the ‘book of the month’ club.”
That’s more like it.
“Client wants to improve her fine motor skills. Client will write a song to express and cope with feelings of anxiety.” Not quite what we’re looking for right now.
How about… “Client wants to improve her fine motor skills. Client will practice isolating fingers by playing a 5-finger C Scale on the piano for 5 minutes each day.”
There we go!

T – Time-Bound
S.M.A.R.T. goals are time-bound. They indicate by when the goal is intended to be met.
“I will learn to speak Spanish.” Okay, but what’s your time-table?
How about… “I will learn 10 new Spanish phrases before my niece’s quinceañera next Saturday.” Having a schedule helps!
“Client will create a playlist of preferred music to ease anxiety.” When will they need it?
How about… “Client will create a playlist of 30 preferred songs [~90 minutes] to ease anxiety during his chemotherapy treatment this Friday.”
Friday it is!

So when it comes to New Year’s Resolutions, are your goals Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound?
If so, you’re thinking S.M.A.R.T.!
Lofty, vague resolutions can be intimidating and disappointing when we don’t live up to them. But S.M.A.R.T. goals can help us stay motivated and on track, by focusing on the specific objective, measuring progress, and establishing a schedule for completion.
Who keeps resolutions anyway? S.M.A.R.T. goals are better.
– Written by Kevin Middlebrooks, LPMT, MT-BC, NMT

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(a) Heart pounding, (b) out of breath, (c) muscles tired, (d) altered perception of time. One of these experiences is NOT what I would typically associate with exercise… until recently, that is. Any guesses which?

I’d just finished an evening run, and was driving back home from the trail with some of my favorite music playing. But whooooooaaaa, nelly, did it sound slow!

Like, nigh unbearably slow. I’m talking goofily exaggerated slow-motion movie scene slow. Which was odd, because I was pretty certain the song in question was usually at a solid “andante” tempo. Suddenly it sounded like it was being sung by Treebeard the Ent, or Flash the DMV Sloth from Zootopia.

Full disclosure – I’m still pretty new to this whole “physical activity” thing.
So you may have noticed this strange phenomenon long ago. But this was a novel experience for me.
Why did some songs sound slower after exercising?
My only thought: “This can’t be the music. It must be my brain.”

Turns out, it probably was! A few google searches later, and I’m reading research articles about music, the brain, and exercise.
For us Music Therapists, the neurological effects of music on the brain are familiar territory – though still always exciting to learn more about!
But adding exercise into the mix? Apparently things get weird.

Here are some potential reasons for this bizarre Tempo Time Warp:

1. There is a tight link between motor activity and temporal processing.
A 2012 study (Hagura, Et al.) examined why professional ball players often experience the ball “slowing down” before hitting it. The findings – as well as other existing literature – indicate a tight link between action preparation and the areas of the brain devoted to coding the passage of time. These same areas of the brain are responsible for anticipating the amount of time an upcoming motion will take. Thus, the motor system plans accordingly. For this very reason, the Academy of Neurologic Music Therapy places an emphasis on tempo and rhythm in facilitating movement interventions, such that the brain is given a “start” and “end” point between each beat of a song to provide an efficient neural map to aid motor planning!

If our brain’s processing of time (e.g. tempo of music) can inform and invigorate our movements, it makes sense that – maybe – it can work in reverse too. Vigorous movement (e.g. exercise) could, perhaps, inform or even alter our perception of time in music.

2. The Musical “Sweet Spot”
According to an interview between Business Insider and one Dr. Costas Karageorghis – author of “Applying Music in Exercise and Sport” – “It seems that as exercise intensity increases, the human organism prefers a higher tempo […] However, there is a ceiling effect in terms of music tempo preference at around ~140 bpm and any increase in tempo beyond this does not result in correspondingly enhanced aesthetic responses or greater subjective motivation.”

Because people tend to prefer faster, more stimulating music when exercising at a high intensity, the need for more stimulation “may translate to a perception that the music tempo is decreasing.”

Essentially, this means that congruence between activity level and musical elements (especially tempo) matters. It would feel strange to watch a car chase in an action movie while listening to Chopin’s Raindrop Prelude, or to pair a lullaby with a football highlights reel. As Music Therapists, we call this the “Iso Principle” – matching the music to the current physical or emotional state of the client before gradually shifting. And apparently, if the music we listen to while exercising is incongruous with our activity level – outside of our tempo “sweet spot,” that is – it may even sound slower than normal!

Furthermore, if our rate of movement continues to increase as we work harder in exercise (i.e. running at a faster pace), and yet the music stays at a steady tempo, it can feel as though the tempo is decreasing.



3. Think fast!
It turns out, our brains may even process things at a faster rate when we exercise, so the speed of external stimuli such as music feels as though it is decreasing. Dr. Karageorghis explains, “During low-to-moderate intensity exercise, the brain is oxygenated and so processing speeds can be increased as a consequence, especially in older adults.”

However, the reverse is true at higher intensities of exercise, such that processing of external stimuli such as music is actually limited.

4. “Everything hurts and I’m dying.”
The perception of time is also subjective, changing based on our experiences and what we’re doing. We know this as we get older, because my, how the years fly. When we’re ten years old, a full year is a significant chunk of our life, and thus time feels as though it moves more slowly than when we’re older. You’ve certainly heard the phrase “time flies when you’re having fun!” The opposite seems to hold true as well, doesn’t it? When you’re longing intensely for something, time can really slow down.

During intense exercise, then, the pain of physical exertion may cause a longing for relief, and thus a “slowing down” of time.

So it sounds like a lot of factors play into the Tempo Time Warp!
In any case, this is just another reminder of how intricate and complex – and just downright fascinating! – our brains’ responses to music in conjunction with other activities of life can be.

– Kevin Middlebrooks, LPMT, MT-BC, NMT

Read more about this topic from Lindsay Dodgson at Business Insider here: https://www.businessinsider.com/why-music-appears-to-slow-down-when-you-exercise-2017-9?r=UK&IR=T

Other Sources:
Hagura, N., Kanai, R., Orgs, G., & Haggard, P. (2012). Ready steady slow: Action preparation slows the subjective passage of time. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences,279(1746). doi:https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2012.1339

The Academy of Neurologic Music Therapy: https://nmtacademy.co/

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Metro Music Therapy by Kevin Middlebrooks - 7M ago

*In accordance with HIPAA, and out of respect for our client’s privacy, the name “Ruth” will be used as an alias in this blog post.*

Happy Holidays!
Merry Christmas!
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! …right?
Or, at least… it’s supposed to be?

For a great many people – maybe yourself included – this season truly is a time of good cheer, fond memories, gatherings of family and friends, bright spirits, colorful decorations, and cherished traditions. It’s a time to be grateful, to be kind and compassionate.
And I sincerely hope that the holidays bring all of this and more to you and yours!

But acknowledging, and even experiencing, all of these warm emotions and happy thoughts typically associated with the holidays certainly does not negate or invalidate those painful feelings that may also be stirred up at this time of year.
Joy may be followed by sadness. Laughter may be preceded by tears.
Maybe the gift you’re really hoping for this season is just a little bit of relief from the seemingly constant fatigue, stress, irritability, anxiety, depression, etc. Stressors like lack of time, lack of money, commercialism, pressures (whether perceived or stated) of gift-giving, and loneliness can feel all the more amplified when the rest of the world seems to be telling you to celebrate. Family gatherings can bring up difficult and painful memories, whether of childhood trauma or the loss of a loved one.

As Music Therapists, colleagues, friends, brothers, sisters, parents, neighbors – it’s important to remember that any number of painful circumstances, situations, or seemingly conflicting emotions could be the reality of the person sitting next to us this holiday season.
Our clients, our friends, our family could very well be hurting, and that pain might even be brought to surface by the very season that’s intended to bring joy, peace, and good will.

Take the phrase, “Happy Holidays!” for example.
Do you ever feel a sense of pressure when you hear that?
What if I’m not happy at all? Am I doing this wrong? Shouldn’t I be happy right now?
What’s intended as a simple expression of well-wishes can start to feel like a command.
“Have a Holly Jolly Christmas. Do it.”

Kacey Musgraves says it well in her song “Christmas Makes Me Cry.”
Let’s pause and take a listen.

Christmas Makes Me Cry - YouTube


So how do we respond when Christmas makes us cry?

One good rule of thumb is validation. 
It’s okay not to be okay.
It’s alright if Christmas makes you want to curl up in a ball.
And if the last thing you want to hear right now is another chestnut roasting, sugar-plum dreaming, mistletoe waiting, bell jingling, sleighing song, then so be it!

A client – let’s call her Ruth – recently said to me, “I’m dealing with a lot of holiday depression right now. Is it okay if we don’t do Christmas music? I’d rather just keep singing country songs with you, if that’s alright. That actually helps me feel better.”

Can’t you almost hear that sense of pressure?
Ruth was asking *me* if *I* would be okay with not doing Christmas songs –
and of course that’s okay, because the session is for her.
But, since it’s “the most wonderful time of the year,” Christmas songs are just expected. And maybe they don’t need to be. Especially if they’re a detriment to a person’s mental health.

If Alan Jackson’s “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” does more good for your soul than “Silent Night” right now, then that is okay. Really. And if you change your mind later and feel like singing “Joy to the World,” that’s okay too!

Ruth, in fact, did ask for Christmas songs the following week (“The upbeat ones, though, not the sentimental ones.”) We sang “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” and had a good laugh!

All of this to say, whatever you’re experiencing this holiday season, it’s worth respecting and acknowledging.
If you want to laugh, do it heartily. If you need to cry, then go right ahead.
It may not be a bright, shiny, sing-songy, happy good time, and that’s alright. (Though I hope it is!)
To paraphrase [or, y’know, just rewrite] the song “White Christmas:”

May your days be whatever they need to be right now,
And may all your Christmases be white.

If you’ll allow me to finish with a simple expression of goodwill – for real, though, no pressure –
I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!


– Written by Kevin Middlebrooks, LPMT, MT-BC


Resources:
What We Know About the Holiday Blues
The Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research, 2017
https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/evidence-based-living/201712/what-we-know-about-the-holiday-blues

Photo: xenia_gromak / Photocase

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Metro Music Therapy by Kevin Middlebrooks - 7M ago

It’s always exciting for us to welcome new therapists to our team at Metro.
We recently had the immense pleasure of experiencing that excitement twofold, as both Justin and Amy joined our ranks! We’ll be getting to know Amy a little more on this blog soon, so stay tuned.

This week, let’s talk about Justin Sant! After spending many years in New York City, working with incarcerated teens, adults & children with intellectual and developmental delays, and patients in detox & acute psychiatric settings – not to mention his time at the Manhattan VA, where he combined guitar lessons and psychotherapy to help Veterans work through various mental health struggles, including PTSD – Justin is now growing accustomed to our Georgian, southern ways (he recently texted us the word “y’all.” We were enthused.) He’s an amazing therapist, and he’s already hit the ground running with a new program for Veterans in Atlanta!

Justin, can you tell us a little about yourself?
Sure! I’m a guitar player from the northeast. My mother is from Ireland, and my father is from Trinidad; I was born in the Bronx. So I grew up with all sorts of music – Irish Folk, Island Reggae Calypso, and I discovered Punk Rock. Went to Berklee College of Music for undergrad, and I discovered Music Therapy from a singer in a band who was studying it as her major. She invited me to tag along for her practicum at a juvenile prison, where I got to experience Music Therapy in action for the first time while working with incarcerated teens. I loved it so much that after I moved back to NYC, I kept taking the bus back to weekly to Boston to assist my friend with her prison practicum. I started looking for Music Therapy volunteer opportunities in New York, which led to me being hired as a music teacher at a facility for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. After a few years I met famed Music Therapist Benedikte Scheiby. For a while, I was her assistant at the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function, which Oliver Sacks was involved with. Then I went to NYU for a graduate degree in Music Therapy where I was gung-ho to work with Veterans. I spent two years doing Music Therapy at the Manhattan VA until my wife’s job led to us moving to Atlanta. When I saw that Metro Music Therapy partnered with the Wounded Warrior Project, I knew I wanted to work there!

Why do you enjoy working with veterans?
I have a lot of friends who served and I also have some real life experience with trauma, so there’s a personal connection there too. Music has always been healing for me. I’m a firm believer that trauma is somatic – stored in the body. You can’t intellectualize yourself out of a panic attack, but music can break through the intellectual / behavioral stuff.

Let’s talk a bit about our new Music Therapy program at the VEO in Atlanta.
First of all, what is the VEO?

The VEO is the “Veterans Empowerment Organization.” It’s a facility that serves homeless Veterans. It’s really cool – it’s a full campus, with apartments and a mess hall. It really feels like a military base. Might even feel like home to these guys for that reason. (So far, all the Veterans I’ve worked with there have been male.)

How does Music Therapy fit in at the VEO, and how did this program start?
So, I’ve worked with Veterans for 4 years, and in that time, I’ve put together song packets – songs chosen by Veterans themselves. These songs are a great starting point for verbal processing. They provide a context in which the Veterans can deal with some pretty traumatic issues, on the flip-side some of the chosen songs can bring back a lot of good memories. At the VEO, I met with Sahar Khundmiri (she’s the Director of Wellness Services & Partnerships) and brought a bunch of instruments. She invited me to the mess hall, and we had a session that very day! I had a brought along my guitar as well as various percussion instruments and a big xylophone . The Veterans jumped right in and began to musically improvise and chose songs. Afterwards, Sahar looked at me and said, “We need to do this every week.”

And what does a typical group session look like?
We usually start out with musical improvisation. People go through the song packets – we sing along, and it stirs up discussion. The Veterans actually want to start writing a song about the VEO, and how they feel about it. We recently got the go ahead to start a guitar group, which is something I‘ve been pushing for as I’ve got to witness first hand how much Veterans got out of one that I started at the Manhattan VA!

How have you seen Veterans benefit from Music Therapy?
It provides a really fantastic community experience. The Veterans can help each other the most. When a conversation gets going in a Music Therapy session, there’s sort of a “me too!” aspect that helps them not feel alone. And then, one of my favorite things is that look on someone’s face when they get a chance to express themselves musically – even if, at the start, they’re saying, “I don’t know, I’ve never played before.” Their face just lights up.

What is one thing you’ve learned about people, relationships, and Music Therapy through working with Veterans?
The importance of community! That we’re not alone. To get to be a part of someone else’s life… and them allowing you to be a part – it’s a sacred thing. It’s an honor to be there to experience them expressing themselves through music, sometimes for the first time.

Thanks so much, Justin. We couldn’t be more thrilled to have you on board with us at Metro, and the work you’re doing with Veterans is amazing!

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*SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t seen the film yet, but plan to and don’t want to know the end, then DO NOT READ. But, be sure to come back and read after you have seen it! 

Ok, you’ve been fully warned.

Upon seeing the first preview for this film in the spring, I was all in. The music and acting were promising to be of a caliber that Hollywood had not seen in awhile. I was able to attend an early screening of A Star is Born and was completely ready to dive into this musical and emotional love story.

Or so I thought.

Guys – this movie wrecked me! And I brought my unsuspecting friend straight down into the depths of this emotional pit with me right there in the theater. When the credits rolled, we just sat there in silence, wiping our tears, unwilling and unable to move. Since then, we have talked over and over about the story, the music, the acting, and all of the beautiful nuances that left us and most other viewers completely bereft yet fulfilled all at the same time.

When I watch or experience something for the first time, I am typically watching with a heightened level of anticipation because of the fear of the unknown. After I know that I know what is going to happen, I want to watch again through a new set of eyes and ears; a more relaxed, tuned-in set of eyes and ears that are able to experience things at a deeper level because the anxiety of the unknown has now faded. Yes, I realize this is a hard way to experience real-life events, seeing as they can never fully be replicated, so I have to work very hard to “be in the moment” in these situations. But I digress.

The Greatest Showman? Forget it. Once I knew all turned out okay in the end, I was all-in. I lost count after seeing it in the theater 7 times. But A Star is Born has a different ending than that of The Greatest Showman. The overall feel is heavier; more raw, and much, much darker; and the ending is not neatly packaged with a bow on top. So seeing this movie in the theater again was going to leave me wrecked – again – but since it was nearly impossible to place the story and the music out of my mind and far from my thoughts, I ended up back in the theater. Again.

If you’re reading, you’ve seen the film (or you are purposefully ruining the film for yourself!). The movie was filled with intense relationships, a small look at life on the road for a touring musician, incredible original music, the reality and pain associated with alcohol abuse, substance abuse, and depression, and of course, the love story of Jack (Bradley Cooper) and Ally (Lady Gaga). Ally gets unconventionally courted by Jack as she and a friend are flown on a private jet to attend one of Jack’s concerts. That night following the concert, Jack slips into unconsciousness in a hotel room due to the excessive amount of substances used before, during, and after the show. He wakes in the middle of the night and begins to wake Ally; as this scene plays out, two single notes with no other accompaniment are played in the background as the rest of the world appears it has slipped away. A-A-B-B and then repeats again, A-A-B-B. So simple, and with so little fanfare that I did not pay much attention to this motif the first time I saw the film.

Two-Note Motif (this is a raw recording taken from a piano app – not nearly as beautiful without the sustain pedal!)

But this time it struck me as alluring, and somewhat familiar. I couldn’t put my finger on why. I continued to notice the motif throughout the movie this time, all during significant moments in the story; it was again played when Jack proposed to Ally in the home of their friend in Memphis. And once again, the entire scene melted away as Jack and Ally shared the intimate moment of a marriage proposal with the simple melodic accompaniment joining them in the background.

There are three more times that this motif is played in the film. The first of these three times is when Jack plays the love song he wrote for Ally after he gets home from his long-term inpatient rehabilitation stay. This two-note motif gets embedded into the beginning of the song that he is introducing to her, which we later find to be the foundation and groundwork of the song, “I’ll Never Love Again.”

The fourth time this motif is played, it is by Ally as she is slumped over the piano in the home that she and Jack shared. She begins playing this motif, but this time with a minor key accompaniment. This is the morning after Jack completed suicide; the minor undertones giving us a tiny glimpse into the enormity of the utter despair and pain she must be feeling.

The last time the motif is played is during the last song of the film, when Ally takes the stage at a memorial service for Jack, and performs the song that they shared together, “I’ll Never Love Again.” Besides hearing the sobbing in the theater, you can hear the A-A-B-B  A-A-B-B in the melody of the beginning of the song, and the motif continues to be woven throughout.

I left the theater after the second time viewing the film and realized that the beauty in this two-note motif could be, and probably is, very easily missed by audiences, especially during the first (and possibly only?) viewing. After all, this motif is not at all conspicuous or ornate. It probably sounds silly – there is an entire album of incredibly rich, textured music that has been the byproduct of this film (or may the film was the byproduct of the music?), and here I am focusing in on two notes – but they haunted me throughout the film and continued to even after leaving the theater.

The more I thought about these two notes, the more the motif took shape and began to apply meaning to itself right in front of me. Jack was a tortured soul; one who was complicated, with an injured past, who hurt deeply but loved on an even deeper level. Everything about him was a far cry from simple. But his love for Ally was the one facet of his life that he was able to make sense of. Yes, he hurt her – and badly, at times – but it was very apparent that, from the moment he saw her for who she truly was, his love for her was pure, and some may argue that this love was the one part of his life that remained un-tortured.

This two-note motif was Jack’s love song for Ally, told exclusively through Jack’s eyes — until the end, when this motif blossoms into Ally’s love song for Jack. It starts simple; no accompaniment and no lyrics, but was present during the most significant times of their relationship. And when Jack was gone and Ally didn’t have words, she sat at the piano and played her sadness, grief, and deep love that she felt for Jack through this motif with rich emotion and gravity. And then at the end of the film when Ally takes the stage – oh how the tears are streaming now – she echoes the love that Jack showed to her, that he curated for her by writing this song, and she performs the song in its’ entirety. This is Ally’s brave and heartfelt attempt to do their love story some semblance of justice while her heart is shattered in a million pieces on the floor.

In the aftermath of Jack’s death, his brother, Bobby, reminds Ally of Jack’s theory on music… “Jack talked about how music is essentially 12 notes between any octave. Twelve notes, and the octave repeats. It’s the same story, told over and over, forever. All any artist can offer the world is how they see those 12 notes. He loved how you see them.”

Everyone has a story; and this musician believes that if you have a story, you have a song.
How would yours sound?
Who would be your co-writer?
What might you be able to say through 12 notes that you couldn’t say with words?

Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper - I'll Never Love Again (A Star Is Born) - YouTube

“Where words fail, music speaks.” – Hans Christian Andersen

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