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Observations placeholder

Music therapy – Case history of James, an ex-miner from the north of England



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

From Community Music Therapy – edited by Mercedes Pavlicevic and Gary Ansdell

James, an ex-miner from the north of England, is referred by his key worker on one of the residential units for individual sessions which take place in his room. He is in his eighties, thin and frail with many physical problems and often in a lot of pain. He suffers some confusion and memory loss associated with heart disease and has a pacemaker. He has no family since his wife's recent death, and is severely depressed and withdrawn. He rarely comes out of his room where photographs show a large, fit and smiling younger man.

In our first session, he sees my accordion and tells me that he used to play accordion and harmonica in local pub bands years ago. After a while he asks me to fetch a harmonica from a drawer (where he has several) and begins to play in short bursts, passages from I930s songs like Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, Marta and Jealousy. I accompany him on accordion. He is very breathless, tends not to finish anything and is discontented with his playing, saying he used to play much better.

Over months of sessions he becomes more confident, less critical and despite his breathing difficulties plays complete songs, sometimes for half an hour non-stop. He increasingly seems to enjoy playing favourite slow romantic songs as well as playing in a light and humorous way with great vitality. Staff members who hear him are amazed.

Our musical relationship becomes more interactive, and on a number of occasions he corrects my accordion technique! Sessions, which have been intermittent over the years because of ill health and a period in hospital help to free him from isolation, give him back a sense of identity and ability as a musician: he offers advice and gives pleasure to others.

When he hears himself on tape he doesn't think he sounds too bad - although not quite up to his hero, Larry Adler, whom he heard entertaining the troops in North Africa during the war! James also begins to perform for others again, first joining groups and eventually taking part in performance events.

The source of the experience

Healer other

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

Activities and commonsteps


Music therapy