Music to their ears

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George Linton has been making high-powered connections since 1975. If you’ve conjured up an image of a high-powered executive making high-powered deals, you’d be way off base. In real life, George Linton connects people with music.

For several hours every week, he visits the chronic care wards in hospitals throughout the Greater Toronto Area. With a guitar in his hand and a song or two in his heart, if he’s on the right floor, in the right wing, he’ll start to play.

“We could hear you down the hall,” is a familiar comment he receives from patients – the ones who are able to speak. Once in the room, he plays as many requests as he can, because playing a favourite tune is “the best way to bring a smile to a face.”

George started playing his guitar at parties in high school. “Those times were fun,” he recalls, but one day the spirit moved him to take his instrument and play for patients at the Runnymede Chronic Care Hospital. That was 33 years ago. “I remember walking in there with fear and trembling. I really had no idea what I was doing. But once I started to play, things just took off from there.”

Over the years, George has built up a considerable repertoire of music. “I play all kinds. Because everyone has their own lifetime hit parade, I try to tap into that.” During an afternoon visit, he sings anything from Tony Bennett to Louis Armstrong, and just about everything in between.

Often the staff will join in too. George recalled playing for a particularly sentimental nurse who sang along with him after requesting Streets of London. While that was fun to do, he also admits that sometimes he is asked to play a song that he just doesn’t know. During those times, George takes note of the song and adds it to the list of those he is committed to learn.

When asked if he had any special memories from the past, he nodded and smiled, then shared a story about an elderly patient who could no longer speak due to advanced Parkinson’s disease. While George was playing another tune, the patient managed to blurt out “Hills of Old Kentucky!” George jumped immediately into that song.

Such is the power of music.

The Canadian Association of Music Therapists has been tapping into this power for decades. According to their website: “Music therapy is the skilful use of music and musical elements by an accredited music therapist to promote, maintain, and restore mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health. Music has nonverbal, creative, structural, and emotional qualities. These are used in the therapeutic relationship to facilitate contact, interaction, self-awareness, learning, self-expression, communication, and personal development.”

While George is not an accredited music therapist, he has been able to bring his joy of music to hundreds of patients over the years. He admits though, that at times he thinks some patients are just too ill to enjoy his music; they’re just in too much pain. At those times he would just grasp their hands and sit with them quietly.

More connections.

At other times, if he’s not playing his guitar, George also plays the banjo, fiddle and the mandolin. Sometimes just hearing the unusual sound of a mandolin in a hospital room can cause a patient to respond. When asked why he plays, George says: “People like to hear music. It cheers them up. Remember Lawrence Welk? He once says, ‘Through music, they understand.’”

Personally, I think we would all do well to remember George Linton, who puts it best when he says, “Good songs cross all borders.”

If that isn’t a high-powered connection, I don’t know what is.

For more information about George Linton and the musical services he provides for patients, please contact him directly at 416-766-6131.