Music has always been a part of Tom Curry’s life, but when his grandmother suffered a fall and began experiencing symptoms of dementia, he realized the true power it holds.
Since that moment, he has been channeling his musical talents into helping others in their time of need.
Curry grew up in a musical family in Antigonish and took his interest further, pursuing a diploma in jazz studies and eventually a Bachelor of Arts with a major in music.
When his grandmother began feeling anxious and confused after her injury, it was a very challenging time for Curry and his family. The mobile, intelligent, and funny woman they knew and loved was suddenly becoming very unlike herself.
Curry’s coping mechanism was to do what he knew best: bring his guitar into the hospital and play songs for his grandmother.
“As soon as I started playing the music, I noticed her anxiety would drop and her focus would be on me,” Curry explains. “Even when the music stopped, she remained calm and content.”
After experiencing the same reaction several times, Curry began researching the healing power of music. That’s when he discovered the field of music therapy.
“I learned about the Canadian Association of Music Therapists and saw that one of the few Universities that offered the music therapy program was Acadia,” he says.
In 2012, after completing his two-year certificate at the Wolfville, NS university, and embarking upon the required 1,000-hour internship, Curry became a certified music therapist.
Bringing music therapy to Antigonish
Shortly afterwards, he led a presentation on music therapy to an organization called Arts and Health Antigonish. The organization, comprised of health professionals, artists, and community members, seeks to implement more arts-based therapy in healthcare in Antigonish, including music, visual arts, and storytelling.
The team offered Curry a one-month contract to provide music therapy at St. Martha’s Regional Hospital.
“The first month went over really well, and they kept finding ways to fund the project,” says Curry. “This went on for 13 months, and then as the funding was coming to a close, the Nova Scotia Health Authority decided to create a permanent position for music therapy.”
Curry was thrilled to accept, and has been working with St. Martha’s Regional Hospital and primary health care for the past six years.
Running both group and one-on-one sessions, Curry stays busy, sharing the joy of music with those healing from broken bones, stokes, brain injuries, and more. His focus is always getting patients involved, whether it be stomping their feet, clapping their hands, or singing along. “Singing is one of the healthiest exercises you can do for yourself,” says Curry. “You’re taking in lots of oxygen, you’re getting physical, you’re practicing vocalization. It’s incredibly beneficial.”
Curry says the human connection to music is innate, referencing the excitement you feel when you watch a child lose themselves in a dance, or an elderly man get up out of his seat to join the dance floor.
“We respond to these things naturally,” he explains. “Music triggers our memories; that’s why I think it’s so poignant and why it affects us so much.”
Curry will never forget the support he received from Arts and Health Antigonish, and continues to sing its praises as the group works to add even more arts-based therapy to the community. The organization is currently working to obtain charity status, which will allow for more consistency in the programming.
“I truly believe the health authority needs to make space to hire more music therapists,” says Curry. “The demand is there, it’s a service that benefits society, and music can change peoples’ lives.”
By Jill Ellsworth