‘Quarantine vulnerable not at any cost’

Remi Adriaansz is a violinist, music therapist, music educator and part of the Embrace team. For months he was not allowed to visit his clients because of coronagraphs. “I had a very hard time with that. People fell into isolation, were no longer allowed visitors, not allowed to go outside, and activities were shut down. In my view, the measures were too rigid. Quarantine measures, however well-intentioned, should not deprive people of everything. People need much more than just food and drink. For many vulnerable people, music is an essential need.”

Remi Adriaansz (center) during performance Inclusive Music Theatre ANDERS! Photo: Ruben van Vliet

Surely the measures were designed precisely to protect these vulnerable people from the dangerous virus?

“That’s true. But a quarantine cannot and should not be at any cost. People are given food and drink because we think it is important and necessary. That involves caregivers and nursing staff. They take the necessary precautions. In Beetsterzwaag, rehabilitation programs (including music therapy, ed.) continued as usual during the intelligent lockdown because we find rehabilitation important. Yet music is also important, just like food and drink. But as musicians, we were completely locked out. That to me was a sign that the importance of music, and thus our profession, is not recognized.”

Why is music so essential for your clients?

Consider someone with dementia who feels trapped in their body, or someone with autism who has aggressive seizures when they don’t receive the right stimuli. Consider also that these people could not receive visits from their loved ones in recent months. That creates stress. Then music is a very important way for these people to connect without words.

Can you explain what your work as a music therapist/musicologist entails?

“I use the power of music to help people with disabilities. These may be people with physical or intellectual disabilities or those suffering from a form of dementia or autism. A music therapist is committed to treating a condition, such as neurosis, psychosis or depression. But take dementia, a condition that won’t go away. As a music therapist, I deploy the power of music, not to treat a disability, but to enhance people’s well-being and make life more colorful through guidance.”

So how exactly does that work?

“With music you can touch people, with music you can communicate without words. For that I sometimes use my violin. I then see people with very strong muscle tension completely relaxed. Making music together also works. For example by playing the piano together. This is also possible when someone is not a pianist, we use special techniques for that. By making music, people can express emotions. People who feel trapped in their brain or body are revived. I sing regularly with a lady of 101. Those hours are very important to her.”

But when you are gone again, that musical moment is gone too. People should wait until the next time.

“That’s why I have a lot of contact with care staff and advise them how they, too, can use music to help people. For example, by letting them experience that you can trigger memories with music. Just think of the Top 2000, for many people that is a kind of rollercoaster of memories that usually put you in a pleasant mood. In my work, I look for music from the time when a client was between 15 and 25 years old. That was the time when you break away from your parents and the adolescent brain develops. You developed your own taste. Especially music from that time evokes special and positive emotions.”

And the music of childhood, they also evoke fond memories, don’t they?

“That’s true, but those memories are colored a little differently. Leading to the warm feelings of home, your own nest. For example, my father loved operetta music. I hated it, to me it was ‘movie music.’ But when I hear it now, I still get fine feelings because of my memories of then.”

Caregivers can also make music together with clients. But caregivers are not musicians, are they?

“We are all musicians! We don’t all play an instrument, but we can all sing. In the Netherlands we are very reserved about that. We are easily embarrassed, for example, many people don’t dare to sing in front of others.”

Where does that shame come from?

“We don’t have a real music culture. In non-Western cultures, making music together is part of life. With us, making music mainly means studying very hard and then producing a perfect end result. The audience has to be able to enjoy it. I always ask: what about you, can you actually enjoy it yourself?” During the Embrace trainings, we try to help care workers cross that threshold and give them tools to use music in their daily care practice.”

There are relaxations now, but what if there is a second wave?

“I am, of course, very happy that there is much more possible again at the moment. But indeed, what if there is a second wave? I hope there will be a good evaluation of the past quarantine period. Because fortunately I am not the only one who is critical. I hope that next time we deal with it differently and that as musicians, with the necessary precautions, we may continue to help people with music. Especially in periods of isolation.”