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Breaking Ground 91 Arts - Harmony's Song

by LaTresa Payne

“What is that lovely sound?” Bailey, a newly hired staff member asked as I showed her around the semi-independent home where I served as Home Manager for several individuals with disabilities.

With a smile, I continued to guide Bailey down the brightly lit hallway towards one of my favorite client’s rooms, Harmony J. “Follow me and you’ll see.”

As we stopped just outside of the open door to Harmony’s room and peeked inside, we saw an African American lady of short stature in her late 30s standing near the window. She was humming a tune as the sunlight gently kissed her face through the window pane.

“This is Harmony,” I whispered, not wanting to disturb Harmony’s melody. “She wakes up singing with the birds who sit on the tree branch outside of her window every morning. It’s simply amazing.”

“Wow!” Bailey gasped, in awe. “That’s a beautiful tune she’s singing. I’ve never heard anything quite like it.”

Nodding, I directed her back towards my office. Once we were inside, I closed the door and began telling her Harmony’s story.

“When Harmony was just a baby, her parents were in a horrible accident and she was sent to the then-running developmental center to live. She has a diagnosis of Down syndrome and blindness, but has overcome any challenge that has ever darkened her doorstep. When she was just five years old some of the staff noticed that Harmony would wander off down the halls, feeling along the walls to guide her towards the huge day room in the building.

“Harmony had never spoken a word and refused to socialize with her peers, but as she sat alone in the day room, she would become extremely excited, smiling and giggling which was a rare treat from her. That warmed the staffs’ hearts, so they continued to allow her to venture off to the day room with supervision.

“When I was her newly assigned provider, I followed Harmony down to the day room one morning and was surprised by what I saw: although she could not see, she placed her small hands on the glass window pane to steady herself as she pressed her ear up against the glass’ smooth surface. Hearing the birds chirp merrily outside, she did that smiling and giggling we had seen before. Taking her by the hand, we ventured outside and stood in front of the tree where the birds sang majestically. Jumping up and down in excitement, Harmony opened her mouth and began to sing right along with them. The song had no words, but just to hear her sweet voice brought tears to my eyes. Until that day, no one had ever heard her voice. Everyone believed her to be nonverbal, but I had this feeling that she desired to speak. That morning I decided I would try to reach her and teach her how to speak…through music."

“That’s wonderful,” Bailey replied, her blue eyes sparkling as she smiled warmly. “So, she learned to speak through singing?”

“Yes. Once I realized that she loved music, I brought in all the cassette tapes I could find with children’s songs on them such as the alphabet and counting numbers. Each shift I shared with Harmony, I sat and played the tapes and would help her learn to form the words in the songs. Harmony would clasp her hands together and giggle while she rocked back and forth to the music. Each week we would work on words from different letters in the alphabet, until Harmony built up an extensive vocabulary. Pairing her up with another young lady who was also blind helped Harmony come out of her shell and socialize because she had finally found her words.

“Her voice was always there, she just needed to be taught how to use it.”

After Bailey left to continue her rounds at the neighboring homes, I headed back to Harmony and escorted her to the day room. Inside sat a piano next to a large picture window. Taking a seat at the keyboard, I began to play a familiar tune which instantly brought a smile to Harmony’s face. With the holiday season approaching, Harmony was excited about singing in the Holiday Showcase the State of Tennessee puts on for the residents each year. We had been practicing the song for weeks and I couldn’t wait for Harmony to shine.

On the day of the Holiday Showcase, Harmony was a bundle of anticipation. She could barely contain her laughter as she clapped her hands and giggled in the van as we traveled with her staff and peers to the event. Once we were inside the building, Harmony began jumping up and down at the sound of holiday music filling the air.

When it was Harmony’s turn to perform, her provider walked her up to the microphone on stage as I sat down behind the piano to play.

“Are you ready, Harmony?” I asked, and she nodded with a smile.

As my fingers danced along the black and white keys of the piano, Harmony belted out her version of “Oh, Holy Night” and the crowd went wild at the purity and beauty of her voice.  When she finished there wasn’t a dry eye in the crowd. Before she could be escorted off the stage, Harmony held the microphone up to her lips.

“I want to thank my home manager, Ms. Leah, for teaching me how to speak and never giving up on me. Happy Holidays everyone.”

My mouth flew open and fresh tears stung the corners of my eyes. In all my years of working in this field, I have never been so touched. Watching Harmony blossom over the years has been thanks enough for me. For as long as I live, I will never forget Harmony’s song.

LeTresa Payne has been employed by the State of Tennessee for 10 years working in social services. She is a wife and published author of six novels.