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'Musical hugs': Musical therapy memoir moves on many levels

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By Stacie Gorkow, correspondent

When I heard that my neighbor’s brother had written a book, I told her I was interested in reading it. After she gave me a bit of background I was quite certain that I was going to connect with it on a number of levels. Since I used to be a social worker and spent some time working in Hospice, I found myself relating to his different types of therapy used to soothe or bring comfort and joy to children in the hospital.

Dykstra is a former business manager turned volunteer. After his corporate job was eliminated, he needed to find a new focus for his life. His love of music and his faith led him on a journey he never expected. His book, “Musical Hugs: Succeeding through Serving, One Song at a Time,” offers a collection of short stories during his time as a volunteer for Hugworks and as a volunteer hospital chaplain. In these stories he shares connections he made with patients and their families, lessons on healing and ultimately, he learned that it is more rewarding to be defined by serving others than what did in his career.

Hugworks is a non-profit organization that offers “musical hugs,” expressions of love and caring in the form of a song. Members travel through pediatric wards in hospitals stopping by rooms and offering a lullaby or a joyful song to bring a smile to the child’s face, relieving a bit of stress for the parent. Since Dykstra was a self-trained musician and loved picking up his guitar, he believed this may just be his calling.

After auditing a college course on music therapy and interning at the hospital he was ready for his first solo patient. His stories share the varied reactions to his music from a young man who seemingly wasn’t paying attention until Dykstra noticed a slight tapping of his fingers along to the music. Or a young girl with an incurable disease that found a way to laugh with her mom again through the lyrics of a song. Not all of his moments singing in a hospital room were remarkable, but the power of music can leave lasting notes.

When Dykstra decides to follow his faith and became a chaplain at the hospital, his stories become tragic and heartbreaking. During these eight months, his faith was tested and music took a back seat. Even though he didn’t continue in this area, the time spent with families in their darkest moments still help him offer comfort and support while singing a tune.

These stories will make you stop and reflect on what’s important in your life. What talents do you have to offer those hurting or suffering? It may not be through a song, but could be in a way you least expect. Dykstra warns that exploring boundaries, continually trying new ideas and making adjustments will be frustrating and possibly make you want to give up. But, when you ultimately find that “sweet spot” where caring and compassion become natural, then it’s what you are meant to do. Larry Dykstra is the brother of Jan Logan of Van Horne. He lives in Dallas, Texas, with his wife, Sandy. This is his first book.

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