Music helps heal the soul, says Knute Nelson certified music practitioner

Sara Severson works with hospice patients at Knute Nelson Hospice.

Sara Severson, right, a certified music practitioner at Knute Nelson Hospice, works with a resident at Knute Nelson. Contributed photo

As a certified music practitioner, Sara Severson of Alexandria uses her voice and her guitar to provide therapeutic music to Knute Nelson Hospice patients.

She explained that therapeutic music is a non-invasive holistic approach to healing. It occurs in front of a patient, one-on-one, by using instruments – string, wind instruments or voice – as a healing presence.

The focus, she added, is completely on the patient with the aim of bringing in-the-moment healing and comfort to the patient's whole being – emotional, spiritual, mental and physiological – simply by having the patient in the presence of live music.

The benefits of therapeutic music are plentiful as music can help heal the mind, body and soul. Severson explained that live music is soothing to the soul through listening, but it also benefits people physically by sending vibration throughout the whole body. Vibration hits different nerve points in the body, she added, specifically traveling up to the main nerve in the brain, which controls the majority of vital organs.

In addition, live music may also help stabilize heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, digestive track and reduce the immediate response to pain. And live music may also improve human contact, better communication, more positive and less negative emotions, reduce anxiety and create an improved relationship between the caregiver and the patient, said Severson.


She said the science behind therapeutic music is fascinating and that sometimes, therapeutic music is the only medicine one needs. There are certain tones, tempos and techniques that she uses based on the patient’s current condition that helps to move them into a calming state.

Being an entertainer/performer for most of her adult life, Severson said being able to use her talents as a service to others brings a whole new perspective to the power of music.

“I have been privileged to be the vessel as patients have taken their last breath in the presence of therapeutic music,” she said. “I am so fortunate to be employed by Knute Nelson Hospice as I get to spend time with our terminally ill patients and their families bringing them together through music. Together, we laugh, cry, smile, tell stories and sing together. There are so many beautiful moments I have witnessed by providing this service to others. I am grateful.”

A fun fact she shared is that music memory is stored in a different part of the brain than all other memories. She said people may not remember what clothes they wore yesterday, but they can remember lyrics of songs they haven’t sung in a long time. This is why music is so beneficial to those who are experiencing memory loss, she said.

Prior to joining the team at Knute Nelson Hospice, Severson said she didn’t know much about hospice. But, she wanted to share some advice now that she knows what hospice is and what hospice does.

“Do your research on hospice early if you have a loved one who may be facing this journey in their life soon,” she said. “Most patients do not go to hospice soon enough. Most wait until they are referred by a doctor, but this doesn’t always have to be the case.”

Severson said anyone – of any age – is eligible for hospice care if they have a life expectancy of six months of less. She said the team at Knute Nelson Hospice is ready to serve those by bringing comfort care, including therapeutic music, to patients wherever they live.

“We provide everything from a full medical team, spiritual care, social workers, healing touch, massage therapy, therapeutic music, volunteers and more,” she said. “Our patients and their families become our family.”

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