For most of his life, performing and teaching music was Brad Hoag's calling.
Then on Oct. 28, 2013, at the age of 63, he suffered a massive stroke that caused him to lose function in his left arm and hand.
"My whole life I’ve been playing music," he said.
Hoag began playing music at the age of 10 in Manhattan Beach, Calif., in the early 1960s. Over the course of his music career, he played guitar, banjo, bass, accordion and autoharp.
“He has been playing music all his life, dedicating his life to it, practicing every day,” said Clarisse Hoag, his guardian, friend and former wife.
While living in Paris (where he met Clarisse), Hoag toured regularly with The TransContinental Cowboys. Later, he taught music with his brother Scott through their business, Rochester Guitar Studios.
“The stroke was, and still is to this day, the most traumatic event that happened to Brad and our family,” Clarisse said. “Something that has taken away so much and left all of us scared and traumatized. It took his freedom, his home, his job, his dignity, self-esteem, cognitive skills, abilities to choose, and on and on.”
The stroke left Hoag dependent on others for his care, and he moved into a group home for traumatic brain injury victims. Losing his music on top of everything else left him devastated and depressed.
Now, even without the use of his left arm and hand, Hoag is once more able to make music — thanks to board-certified music therapist Destiny Boyum, lead therapist at Healing Rhythms Music Therapy LLC.
Hoag and Boyum each play half of the same guitar or banjo, with Boyum using her left hand on the fret board while Hoag picks or strums the strings with his right hand. They've been having weekly hourlong sessions for close to three years.
“It’s really amazing that she can keep her fingers doing what they’re supposed to do while I’m picking the notes at the same time,” Hoag said. “She’s following me and what I'm thinking in my head, and playing the notes exactly how I would play them in my head.”
“So, I feel like we are one person because the notes she plays are the notes that I hear in my head,” he added.
Hoag enjoys playing songs like “Johnny B. Goode” with Boyum.
“He always talks about the songs he is working on, and how he and Destiny make it work together,” Clarisse said, adding that his dream is to teach again and perform with Boyum in front of an audience.
Boyum has worked as a music therapist for the past four and a half years, after earning a bachelor’s degree in music therapy, completing a six-month full-time internship, and successfully completing a national certification exam.
“I am a huge believer in the power of music, and feel really blessed that I have a career in helping people, with a tool that has helped me so much in my own life,” she said.
Boyum typically works with hospitalized children, teens and adults with mental health concerns, and adults and children with developmental disabilities. She said her clients don’t need to play instruments to benefit from music therapy, and that music has properties that aid physical rehabilitation goals, emotional goals, social language goals and psychological goals.
“Many don’t know, but music is one of the only things globally processed in our brains, which means that it can be a one-of-a-kind option to support many different functions,” she said.
Besides bringing the joy of making music back into Hoag’s life, Boyum’s sessions with him also focus on strengthening cognitive skills by planning song structure, recognizing errors, coordinating and sequencing. Sometimes sessions involve writing music and having Hoag talk through how he would teach guitar or banjo.
“Brad always defined himself as a musician, and when that was taken away from him, a part of him died,” Clarisse said. “Working with Destiny has been a huge gift for Brad, and added so much to Brad's life — above all, the will to go on.”