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MUSIC THERAPY SOOTHES BODY AND SOUL
Manuel Perez eyed Raul Flores with a curious look when the young man walked into his room on the 18th floor of the Nix Medical Center one recent afternoon.
Flores introduced himself and lifted an Ibanez six-string acoustic guitar from a black carrying case. He pushed a chair near the bed, sat down and strummed the melody to the 1984 song, "Smooth Operator," by British R&B group Sade, with a flamenco flair.
Perez nodded his head as the guitarist sang about city lights and business nights.
"I like the way you play,” Perez, 51, said, as he clapped his hands. “You're very good, man!”
Flores serenades patients three days a week, two to three hours a day. He's also taken his one-man show to the center's cafeteria and first-floor lobby. Flores, a full-time valet driver at the center since 2012, began volunteering as an aspiring music therapist this summer. He plays a variety of songs, from Latin jazz to the classics.
“It's been tremendous,” Flores said. “I'm very happy to be part of all this. It's been therapeutic for the patient as well as myself.”
He stops at the nurses' station on each floor before each shift to see which patients might be interested in hearing him play.
Flores, who has been playing since he was 15, was approved to provide the live music after a 2-minute audition for the president and hospital administrators.
According to the American Music Therapy Association, music therapy is an established health service used to address “physical, psychological, cognitive and or social functioning for patients of all ages.”
Credentialed music therapists have played at a variety of institutions that include hospitals, nursing homes, correctional facilities and hospice programs for decades.
In June 2012, Michelle Flaig, an employee health nurse, asked Flores if he'd ever thought of a career in music therapy. Her question prompted him to do some research and he's now planning to transfer to Incarnate Word to seek a bachelor's degree in music therapy.
The first person he played for was his grandfather, who had Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. After noticing improvement in his grandfather's health, he began playing for others.
Dr. Uma C. Nair, a member of the medical staff and one of his mentors, said they both learned very quickly "how healing happens not just through medication, but through conversation and through music."
"I feel music is so important," she said. "The soothing effect it provides can be powerful."