As the healing troubadour with the gentle smile and acoustic guitar settled into the couch, Jeanenne Sailors’ bright brown eyes were bubbling with anticipation.
“So,” began Becky Bressan and she set her fingers to the fret board. “How about we start with ‘Boot Scootin’ Boogie?′ You like that one.”
“Yes, I do,” Sailors said, matter-of-factly. “I like all the good country music.”
As the first chords to the Brooks and Dunn standard filled the air of the penthouse of Villa Pueblo Senior Living Community, the therapy session was underway.
The woman with the “voice of an angel” and warm manner, Bressan is a Walsenburg native and music therapy student at the Boston-based Berklee College of Music. Under the clinical supervision of Berklee professors, Bressan is implementing a music therapy program throughout Southern Colorado while she completes training to become a certified music therapist.
At the request of Tarrah Lowry, CEO of Sangre de Cristo Hospice and Palliative Care, Bressan was asked to extend the scope of the program to hospice patients — one of whom is Sailors.
For the past several weeks, the former Colorado State Fair Silver Queen has been on the receiving end of Bressan’s melodious healing balm.
The two are, in a sense, kindred souls, with a love of music and performing the unifying bond that makes the therapy sessions especially effective and moving.
“I used to play in the band Whiskey River with my husband, who was well-known in Pueblo,” Sailors said with more than a hint of pride. “I played bass once in a while when he allowed me out of the house. And he did allow me out once in a while.
“And then I decided it was too much work. My fingers got really raw and hurt. So after that, I would only sit in once in a while.”
But music, and a love of it, never left Sailors’ life.
Now in the twilight years, where sadness and longing rear their unwelcome heads much too frequently, the gorgeous, soothing melodies of Bressan escort Sailors down memory lane while alleviating the worries and pains of the present.
“What has Becca brought to me? Cheer, let me tell you,” Sailors said. “She sings like an angel, and I could just sit and listen to her for hours. And now and then I hit a note.
“And if you give me a microphone, I can really go for it.”
In music therapy, what is called the “iso-principle” — “meeting the patient where they’re at and then trying to lift them out of that mood or pain,” in Bressan’s words — is a key component. On Wednesday, despite what she terms “a full body ache,” Sailors is bright-eyed, happy and not above singing along with Bressan when the mood and melody strike.
As the rollicking “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” winded down to its final chord, a smile crossed Bressan’s lips.
“Very good ladies,” she said. “We got most of the lyrics that time. OK, some of them. So, how about ‘The Highwayman?’ That was the first song you ever asked me to play, Jean. I told you I didn’t know it, and you told me to go away.′
“I didn’t tell you to go away,” Sailors quickly retorted.
“Well, you said, ‘It’s lunchtime. Come back another day.’ And I did.”
With, of course, ‘The Highwayman’ in the repertoire.
Equal parts performance, sing-along and discussion, the therapy session’s power lies in its ability to positively affect, in the moment and in the memory, the hospice patient’s quality of life and comfort level. In general, music has the supernatural ability to take one back to a happier time in life while diminishing any discomfort of the body and soul.
“Music therapy can help address anxiety, loneliness, depression, pain, discomfort, agitation,” Bressan said. “It also can be good at prompting memories, reminiscing, doing life reviews. Depending on where the patient is at, I do a lot of recreative techniques where we are singing their favorite songs together. And that can prompt discussion about a person’s life.”
In Sailors’ long life, the music of one of those Highwaymen, Willie Nelson, has been a fixture.
“People are pretty polar on Willie Nelson,” Bressan offered. “You either love him or hate him.”
“Well, I love him,” Sailors said. “We went up to Cheyenne and saw him in person, in concert. I went by and took his hand and said, ‘I love your music.’”
“Oh, you charmed him,” was Bressan’s assessment.
“Yes. I’m sorry but I did. And my husband was standing back going ‘Hmm,’ with a real concerned look on his face,” replied Sailors.
Bressan added: “He was wondering if you were going to stay or were coming back.”
The welcome journey into the past now complete, at least until next week, Sailors was gleefully concise in her assessment of the session.
“I came in feeling good, and I’m leaving feeling wonderful.”