SAO PAULO – Sebastiao gasps, unable to control his breathing, but suddenly the sounds of a flute calm his discomfort. They are the chords of a song he remembers from long ago, played by one of the musicians dedicated to alleviating the suffering of patients being treated for their pain at a Brazilian hospital.
“When I first came here, there were about 13 people in the ward. Sebastiao wore an oxygen mask and breathed with great difficulty, very fast. But when I started playing, his breathing calmed down in 10 seconds. Everybody started crying and I almost cried myself,” Brazilian flutist Antonio Carrasqueira told EFE.
Antonio’s story is one of the many emotional accounts told by musicians who every week go to Sao Paulo’s Premier Hospital, not to play songs from their own repertoire but rather songs that the patients remember from long ago.
Several years ago Samir Salman, director of this clinic for the terminally ill, for those suffering degenerative diseases or for seniors who need pain relief, decided to include music in the “hospital’s strategy, as one more therapeutic treatment.”
“The idea is that the musician brings back the patient’s musical memories with the help of the medical staff and the sick person’s biography,” he told EFE in an interview.
The notes of “Carinhoso” by the famed Pixinguinha fills the corridors of the second floor, where patients begin to stick their heads out – people like Joao, a retired photographer who, despite having trouble walking, grabs his cane and limps over to thank Antonio.
The flute player believes that “music has enormous power” to “instill other emotions, other memories, other feelings.”
“When I played for Jose, who used to be a saxophone player, I played numbers that were part of his universe,” and which you could see “awakened many happy memories,” he said.
Antonio understands how hard it is to keep the emotions under control in such situations, one of the things taught in the 100-hour training course for musicians who want take part in this project, like Juarez Travassos Jr. and Giba Donato.
Strangely enough, these two professional engineers took part in the construction of the medical center and from there went on to take the course for musicians. They subsequently joined the project as a duo, with Juarez on guitar and Giba as vocalist.
The two climb the stairs to the room where Guiomar, a woman suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and who was always a big fan of Benito di Paula, still manages to remember, with brightly shining eyes, some of the words of the hit songs “Retalhos de Cetim” and “Meu Amigo Charlie Brown.”
“This therapy is priceless, it’s comes straight from the heart,” said Luiz, her husband of 59 years.
No scientific evidence exists that music has a quantitative effect on patients’ recovery, but psychiatrist Manuela Salman told EFE that she perceives very positive effects “in their expressions” and “in their smiles.”