Music Can Heal - Even During Life's Most Difficult Periods
April 7th, 2022
By Danielle Andersen
Knute Nelson’s Therapeutic Musician, Sara Severson, Uses Sound to Heal and Comfort
Music has been an important component of Knute Nelson’s programming, and one of its most-loved proponents is Sara Severson.
Severson is a graduate of Bemidji State University who worked in sales for several years before finding her niche in therapeutic music and gaining certification in the field from The Healing for Music and Transition Program. Therapeutic music came naturally to Severson, who grew up on a farm in Alexandria, Minnesota, where music was always present. For more than a decade she has been playing and singing in the country band Blonde & the Bohunk alongside Brian Chlian. The two play concerts, benefits, parties, and more. She also sings in a worship band at Calvary Lutheran Church.
Severson personally saw the power that music has to heal. Early on at Knute Nelson, she was asked to visit a person in the hospital who was close to death and unresponsive. In a room full of friends and family, Severson played the patient’s favorite song – “Girl Crush” – and the patient moved her mouth as if she was singing along.
“It was what the family needed for that closure, to know that they had heard her,” she said. “She could hear them and heard me, and then she passed away the next day. When I left the hospital, I was blown away by that experience. I was just like, ‘I want to do this for a living.’”
Kirk’s Song – The Making of ‘Fly Away’
Severson had an unusual and ambitious goal working at Knute Nelson – she wanted to write a song with a patient. Kirk made it happen.
Kirk was a painter, sculptor, and musician from Fergus Falls. He was also terminally ill. Severson visited him and despite his reluctance at first, they were soon laughing, singing, and crying. When she paid a second visit, he took her guitar and played a song that he said came into his head in the middle of the night.
The song, Severson said, was a good one, and Kirk’s wife filmed them singing. As soon as their session was over, Severson called a friend in St. Cloud who has a recording studio. They quickly recorded the song. Meanwhile, Severson’s friendship with Kirk deepened, and she continued weekly visits with him until he passed away.
While Kirk may be gone, his song, “Fly Away,” lives on. Severson made a music video of the song; it opens with some of the raw footage that Kirk’s wife took of the two of them singing and playing guitar before he died. The video can be seen on Severson’s YouTube channel, which is home to other recorded works and videos by Severson.
“I’m just so blessed that I get to do what I do,” she said. “I honestly don’t feel like I work a day in my life.”
While playing and singing at church or in her band at events is rewarding, it does not match the satisfaction that comes from her therapeutic music at Knute Nelson, Severson said.
“Taking this music a step further to be able to provide it as a service to others,” she said, “has just been an amazing journey.”
What Is Therapeutic Music?
Therapeutic music is the use of music to effect change in patients that meets the goals of a care routine. Therapeutic music is a 20-30 minute session that takes place at the patient’s bedside using voice and guitar as a healing presence. It is particularly important in Knute Nelson’s work with those in hospice or facing an end-of-life illness, as well as in the bereavement process of the patient's friends and family.
Therapeutic music can include making music, writing songs, singing, dancing, listening, and discussing music. It can take many forms. It has been shown to be helpful for people with anxiety, chronic pain, Alzheimer’s disease, nonverbal communication, post-traumatic stress disorder, respiration, traumatic brain injury, and substance use disorders. Its benefits include lowered heart rate, relieving stress, improved memory, positive emotions, relaxed muscle tension, and more.
Knute Nelson’s Therapeutic Music Program Uses Sound to Heal
Knute Nelson has served aging adults in West Central Minnesota for nearly 75 years. Our mission of enriching lives has guided us to offer a full continuum of care that includes home and community-based services and senior lifestyle housing.
We believe in seeking out new and innovative ways to empower the individuals we serve to thrive within any setting and the therapeutic music program is doing just that for patients and families of Knute Nelson Hospice.
To hear more music from Sara Severson, search for her channel on YouTube, iTunes, or Pandora. Learn more about therapeutic music at Knute Nelson or contact hospice at (701) 515-0240.