Grant Porter is a music therapist in Kamloops, BC. He can be found singing and playing guitar for seniors at many locations around our city. He doesn’t just sing, he entertains! He engages his listeners and encourages them to sing. He learns their names, their stories and the songs they love the most.
Now a fit, vibrant adult (with a beautiful head of hair I might add!), Grant’s music career started when he was a self proclaimed ‘awkward teenager’ with a banjo and not a lot of friends:
“As a teenager I was very socially awkward and had a lot of time to myself. Practising really helped me through that period of my life. It showed me that I could actually practice and improve, that effort had rewards. I learned a lot about myself from music.
I started playing bass in college and then at University where I got my degree in jazz. Then I was fed up with Toronto and wanted to live in the north so I moved up to Peace River country and started working with young offenders in residential wilderness programs. During these years I played in various bands in various places, but the music with ‘the guys’ was most rewarding.”
Grant has been working as a music therapist in Kamloops since 2004. Prior to that, he worked with young offenders in a wilderness setting for 10 years and often played at bedtime for the young men there. That is where he first experienced the transformative power of music-making in a group in a non-performance setting. He would encourage the troubled youth to sing and chant to improve their well-being:
“I try hard to make close emotional relationships with as many of my clients as I can, and then bring them into the world of music-making so they can experience the benefits of making their own. These benefits are physiologically, emotionally and socially tremendously helpful for people in the end stages of life. And for anyone for that matter.
If you go right down to the bottom, I think what I’m all about is the disciplined and continuing practice of seeking the direct experience of the mystery of being and opening to that. That is the place where the music comes from. The next level up would be the desire to share that with others, which means to create the space in which they themselves can have such a direct experience.”
Today, Grant works with people who are at the end of their lives, living out their last years. He has had long-term relationships with many of his listeners as they work their way through the local elder care process:
“I make music pretty much all day, every day, and I actually prefer making music with people rather than performing for them. There is less of a barrier or boundary between us.
I am an ongoing presence in the lives of many, a presence that strives to bring genuine human connection and caring with a sense of fun and playfulness. My listeners have the opportunity to be drawn into and experience themselves and each other in new and creative ways. They face their fears, their loneliness and sometimes their isolation, in their own way. Coming together to make music allows them to do so with each other.
Sometimes our sessions go into deeper issues and result in profound self-disclosures that further enhance their sense of being witnessed and belonging to a community. People look forward to the next session, and having something to look forward to is a big deal when you’re 95.”
For Grant, his music sessions with the elderly are personally rewarding. He gives his best effort and is tired at the end of the day. Yet he is happy because he knows he has made an effort and has done something useful:
“Providing music therapy has made me a better person. And most importantly, I have learned more from these folks than they have ever learned from me. I have born witness daily to acts of courage, wisdom, grace, humour and compassion from these people as they deal with loss, grief, failing health and approaching death. The most important lesson of all for me is that my turn is coming. Someday soon, I will have my health issues, or I will lose my mobility, or my cognition.
My listeners inspire me to appreciate my life, health and fitness. They inspire my to try to not to take my life for granted and fritter my time away doing inconsequential things, to appreciate every day and every precious drop of life as it is happening. And to continue, always, until the end, in whatever circumstances I find myself, to seek the direct experience of the mystery of being and to share what I find with others.”
I met Grant while working as a care aid and connected with his kind and loving spirit on first meeting. He has recently completed a month of sailing courses in California on the Pacific Ocean and will be moving to the East Coast soon to pursue sailing. He is taking his guitar, beautiful voice and loving soul with him.