Music therapist breaks down emotional barriers

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Hospice worker Sarah Patton greets Dick Redman on a recent visit at Cottagewood Senior Communities. Patton plays music as therapy for hospice patients.
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After Sarah Patton earned a college degree in music performance, she opted to avoid the public spotlight to quietly help hospice patients find peace through her singing.

Three years into the experiment, she couldn't be happier with the path she chose.

Patton's daily routine now consists of meeting with patients and their families for private concerts aimed at easing their pain and anxiety while facing end-of-life issues. She recently completed her first year as a music therapist at Rochester's branch of St. Croix Hospice .

It seemed like a natural progression for the musically inclined East Coast native, who grew up shadowing her father in his role as a hospice chaplain.

"I don't like to perform by myself — I find it's a lonely, self-serving thing," Patton said of her career transition, which meant going back to school for additional training. "I felt that music therapy was a perfect combination of using the talents that have been given to me and helping people in a way that's putting a smile on their face.


"It's about taking away their pain or getting through a really tough day. I love helping people, especially those who society doesn't really pay attention to."

Hospice care can be a difficult topic to broach as the death of a loved one looms, but St. Croix Hospice's Brian Olson says multiple options are available to help ease the transition. In fact, a local consortium of St. Croix, Heartland , Mayo Clinic and Seasons hospice facilities will be celebrating National Hospice and Palliative Care Month next week to help break down those communication barriers.

The Greater Rochester Area Providers of Hospice is hosting a free educational event Nov. 10 at Zumbro Lutheran Church. It's scheduled to run from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m., including an alternate therapies session that will provide interested parties with a benefits overview for music, massage and pet therapy. Patton will be among the featured speakers during that session, which begins at 10:45 a.m.

The American Music Therapy Association touts Patton's line of work as "a form of sensory stimulation which provokes responses due to the familiarity, predictability and feelings of security associated with it."

Additional panels are planned to discuss support and empathy during bereavement and first-hand accounts of "what makes hospice special," according to Olson, as the taboo topic gets its annual month of recognition.

"Every year, nearly 1.6 million people living with a life-limiting illness receive care from hospice and palliative care providers in this country," National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization CEO J. Donald Schumacher said in a statement. "These highly-trained professionals ensure that patients and families find dignity, respect and love during life's most difficult journey."

Patton's duties can includes singing at the funerals of those she's connected with during their final days. It allows her a chance to employ her performance skills in a meaningful way, often after she's broken down emotional barriers through her songs.

She's proficient with a guitar, piano and small percussion instruments and finds that "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" is the song most requested by her elderly patients.


"The more familiar a song is, the more beneficial it's going to be," Patton said. "Music is not threatening, it's not painful. People usually light up when they hear I'm going to play music for them.

"Sometimes I get a little bit of reluctance. People don't want to go to the emotional place because we deal with so much grief at the end of life. Most of the time it's a really great way to break down barriers, especially when you get the stoic farmers. Music can soften everything. I've had men who don't talk to anyone else, but after I sing a few Johnny Cash songs, they start telling me stories."

Moments of Life

What: Greater Rochester Area Providers of Hospice is hosting free educational events for the public

Who: Hosted by Heartland Hospice, Mayo Hospice, Seasons Hospice and St. Croix Hospice

When: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nov. 10

Where: Fireside Room at Zumbro Lutheran Church in Rochester

Contact: St. Croix's Brian Olson at 507-461-7800


Full schedule of events and registration details available at

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Hospice worker Sarah Patton sings with Dick Redman on a recent visit at Cottagewood Senior Communities. Patton plays music as therapy for hospice patients.

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