Harvey Victims Turn to Music for Hope and Healing in the Wake of Tragedy

Aric Harding walked through flooded streets on Wednesday afternoon on his way home to gather his children’s favorite stuffed animals and games left behind after Hurricane Harvey ripped through parts of Texas. Virtually everything remaining on the property—one of eight ravaged houses on his block in Friendswood, south of Houston—had been destroyed.

The water in Harding’s living room reached just below the surface of the pastor’s piano bench, allowing him to sit down to play a few muddled notes before uploading a video of the experience to Instagram. The melody he played, though at times out of tune due to the forces of nature, was an immediate internet sensation.

Related: Fox News is spreading fake news about Hurricane Harvey

“I think it’s all finally sinking in a little,” Harding wrote alongside the video. “What we used to have going as a city is gone. I really think God is going to do something completely new here. I am excited to see the new beauty in the suffering.”

Harding’s moment of respite from the environmental disaster enveloping his community is a natural part of the human experience, a music therapy expert tells Newsweek.

“Music therapy has been utilized in situations like this all over the world,” says Alan Turry, managing director for New York University Steinhardt's Nordoff-Robbins Center for Music Therapy, in New York. “After 9/11, music therapists worked with first responders to provide aid to those who lost loved ones. After Hurricane Katrina, there were music therapists who went to sites that needed help most.”

The power of music in the process of healing from natural disasters and other trauma could be witnessed in several other viral videos across the web in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Residents staying in communal shelters can be seen singing gospel choir songs in unity, and in another clip, men driving trucks throughout Texas break out into dance on the sides of streets.

Turry, whose center is discussing ways to provide music therapy for victims of Harvey, says both singers and nonmusicians are more likely in the wake of tragedy to let their guards down and engage in communal dance and song.

“It’s not so much about being a performer as it is about accessing someone’s strengths and creativities to focus on how they can move forward,” Turry says. “Music is not an avoidance from reality but rather a way to get in touch with yourself at your lowest point.”

Music therapists have been studying the ways music and dance can aid in the processes of grieving and recovery from trauma like national disasters. A resource book on the subject written after 9/11, Caring for the Caregiver: The Use of Music and Music Therapy in Grief and Trauma, explores the many benefits of music as an alternative to typical therapy for those who have experienced significant trauma.

“Trauma and grieving may not be categorized or staged,” the book notes. “Grief work, traumatic or otherwise, requires a holistic view of the world. There is not one starting point, nor is there a final endpoint.”

For those Texas residents now living out their days in arenas, churches and stadiums across the state, coming together for song and dance could be a way of rebuilding the towns and cities they once called home.

“I would say music therapy has been involved in helping unify communities again,” Turry says. “Creativity certainly comes from pain, not only for people individually but for those seeking a sense of community.”

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