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  • Writer's pictureKarla Wilson

"Did you have any idea?!"

Updated: Sep 30, 2020

"Oh, it was back in the day, you know, in my old college days, when my buddies and I sang in the glee club," Lisle explained. This topic arose during our first music therapy session, as we began to explore music that Lisle found meaningful from "back in the day." He asked whether I knew, "It's Only a Paper Moon" (Rose, Harburg, Arlen), one of the songs he recalled from glee club at the University of Notre Dame. Judging from the cozy throw warming his legs and the sweatshirt he wore, both emblazoned with the Fighting Irish logo, Lisle's allegiance clearly remained strong.

As I began to play my keyboard, Lisle immediately joined in singing, "Say, it's only a paper moon, sailing over a cardboard sea, but it wouldn't be make believe if you believed in me." He smiled brightly, projecting his clear, tenor voice more fully and energetically with each song he sang. As Lisle's music resonated through their home, his daughter, Penny, took notice. Having completed a phone call upstairs, she joined us in the living room, exclaiming with utter astonishment, "Dad, I had NO idea that you sang - or that you sang in a choir!" Lisle blushed and seemed a little embarrassed by the attention Penny was giving this newly discovered fact. He diverted the subject by asking whether I knew, "Alexander's Ragtime Band" (Irving Berlin). I did, and moved quickly into its upbeat introduction, with Lisle joining in on the lyrics, "Come on and hear, come on and hear, Alexander's Ragtime Band; come on and hear, come on and hear, it's the best band in the land." From there, the floodgates were officially open, with Lisle issuing a barrage of requests for songs from the 1930-40s. I later learned that displaying this high energy level, in itself, was uncommon for Lisle.

Lisle was battling metastatic lung cancer, that frequently left him fatigued, weak and without the energy or stamina to do most of the things he once enjoyed. Penny cared for Lisle in her home, while suffering from multiple, serious health problems of her own. One of the considerable challenges she faced was not having her siblings living close enough to provide her with regular assistance in Lisle's care. As I got to know her over the course of subsequent visits, I learned that she loved her father dearly. Her mother died 20 years prior to this, and Penny described missing not only her presence, but her wisdom. Lisle also spoke of his beloved wife, and how much her strong faith had sustained the both of them over the years of their marriage.

Lisle relished singing, as if a treasured gift or prized possession once lost, but now found. So, there was a great deal of singing to be had during our music therapy visits. Beyond the songs themselves, however, Lisle reconnected with his own life stories, frequently sharing what he remembered about the time period when they were popular and what he was doing during that time in his life. Both Penny and I noticed additional significant happenings. First, Lisle's physical appearance seemed to transform as he sang and told his stories: he sat more upright in his chair and his breath support improved, as demonstrated by his increased voice volume and stamina for singing and talking. He engaged more spontaneously, his eyes radiating with interest and the joy of rediscovery. Even when his illness progressed, robbing him of strength on a daily basis, Lisle still desired to immerse himself in the music we shared. Though as time passed, his requests included hymns and religious-themed music, "because it makes me feel closer to my wife."

Penny's own countenance and spirits brightened too, as she watched this metamorphosis taking place right before her eyes. In fact during one visit, she was so taken with witnessing the music's tremendous benefits for her father, that she spontaneously reached for her phone and made a video call to her brother who lived out of state. Penny began the conversation with, "Did you have ANY idea that Dad could sing? AND that he was in a choir back in college?" She held the phone up so that he could see and hear her father singing. "Isn't he amazing?!," she asked her brother as the singing continued. Then, Penny and her brother became silent, just listening to their father's beautiful, rich voice. Both were moved to tears.

(Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals)


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