Melodies of life and love: meet EACH’s music therapist

Ray Travasso uses music to bring comfort and hope to patients and their families at EACH. Here’s how his work hits the high notes

By Tim Gibson

“I think this is the best room in the hospice. It’s a place of creativity, love and companionship for whole families. I’m proud to work here.”

So says Ray Travasso, music therapist at The Treehouse, EACH’s Ipswich hospice. Surrounded as we are by a drum kit, electric guitars and amplifiers, a keyboard and recording equipment, it is hard to disagree.

    "...music therapy is about giving people a different way of dealing with their emotions,...”  

Ray’s job involves using music to bring succour to patients and families when they’re dealing with life-limiting and terminal illness, and on the journey through bereavement.

His techniques involve both listening to and playing music, and he says you’d be surprised at how many people find hope in the experience of writing a song, listening to a favourite track or simply making a noise on one of the many instruments available.

“As with the art therapy that takes place in our hospices and at patients’ houses, music therapy is about giving people a different way of dealing with their emotions,” explains Ray. “It can be a helpful way of processing things, of coming to terms with painful circumstances, and of giving expression to feelings that are hard to articulate.”

Such expression takes a variety of forms. One of the activities that Ray finds most fulfilling is writing songs, either with patients or with their families.

“It’s often the case that the dads will ask if they can write a song once their son or daughter has passed away,” he says. “I think it can be hard for men to talk about how they’re feeling, but music is often a way to process some of those complex emotions. People feel as if they can reveal more of themselves in a song than they could in a conventional counselling session.”

There is also the advantage of having a distraction, which can give Ray’s patients more encouragement to open up. “If you’re tuning a guitar or working out how to play a piece of music on the piano, the focus is elsewhere. That can make it easier to talk about what’s going on.”

Another activity that Ray helps families with is recording MP3s of patients. “These provide wonderful mementoes, of them speaking or singing or making music with instruments. Often, it doesn’t matter precisely what they’re doing. Parents and siblings and wider family members relish the chance to hear their loved ones making a noise. It can keep their memory alive.”

    “Finding the right music can help people at this sensitive time..."  

As well as creating music, Ray uses his expertise to curate playlists that help patients and their families deal with their challenging experiences. “This is especially valued when it comes to end-of-life care,” he says. “Finding the right music can help people at this sensitive time. Melodies of life and love fill the space that a loved one’s passing leaves behind.”

Ray works on a one-to-one and group basis, as well as arranging events and activities for bigger groups. He holds regular gig nights at The Treehouse, giving patients and their families a chance to enjoy live music without the pressure of going to a public venue. He encourages performance, because he believes it gives people a focus – something that is especially useful when it comes to processing grief.

“As with all of the services provided by EACH, we respond to our users’ needs,” Ray reports. “If there’s something music-related that a patient or family member wants to do, I’ll do my utmost to make it happen.”

That can-do spirit seeps from the walls of the music therapy room, helping create its wonderful atmosphere. Step inside, and sooner or later you’ll experience the rhythm of life, beating where it’s needed the most.

Published: 11 November 2019

© 2019 Just Recruitment Group Ltd

Just Recruitment is sponsoring EACH’s “Happy Christmas Ipswich” comedy evening, hosted by Griff Rhys Jones. To support the event or donate to EACH, please click here.

If you enjoyed this article, you may like: Where the light shines in

You may also enjoy: Why relearning the piano is the best (and hardest) thing I’ve done for years

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