The Power Of Music: Inside A Music Practitioner’s Vintage Instrument Collection

Bonnie Leigh, a certified music practitioner, has been collecting instruments for nearly 20 years. (Photo courtesy Brick Township Historical Society)

  BRICK – As a certified music practitioner, Bonnie Leigh uses her voice and her string instruments to provide therapeutic music to patients.

  Bonnie has been a traditional folk music performer and teacher for 32 years and has traveled all over the east coast to dulcimer festivals teaching and performing. She performs and sings at nursing homes, club meetings, coffee houses.

  “About 10 years into it, I decided there was somebody I wasn’t reaching with my programs and it was the people who were not coming into the day rooms in the nursing homes, they were stuck in their rooms,” Bonnie said. “When I realized there’s people in the nursing home that weren’t hearing or seeing the music, I decided to become a music practitioner to help them. And it turns out that was an amazing choice.”

  A certified music practitioner is a specially-trained musician who helps the sick and dying patients with therapeutic music.

  “I would work for several hospices, and I would see their patients who are on hospice during the time they came on until the time they have passed. The nurses would call me when they would have a problem with the patient, whether they were struggling with their breathing or having high anxiety, or if it was close to their time to go,” Bonnie said. “I would go in with my music, and you do what’s needed for the patient. You don’t have a setlist, you don’t know what you’re going to do until you get there. You have to look at the diagnosis of the patient and see what the patient needs.”

  Bonnie explained how she can use her small harp or dulcimer and set by a patient’s bed and help bring their breaths from 40 to five a minute.

  “It’s a big honor to be there when they pass,” Bonnie said. “This process also helps the family who’s in the room, who are normally high stressed and scared. The music relaxes them.”

  “Now, doctors have noticed that this practice helps patients. Alternative medical doesn’t always get acknowledged, and now it finally is 10 years after I’ve started,” Bonnie added.

  Throughout her years of playing music, Bonnie has also collected a wide variety of instruments including antiques. She recently shared some of her collection with the Brick Township Historical Society. It is on display in their showcase inside the township municipal building.

  “The dulcimer is handmade and built by individual builders making each one sound different. I started collecting the Appalachian dulcimer, I now have 14 of them. They’re all different and they all sound great,” Bonnie said. “When starting to collect that, I also played a lot of other string instruments, so I would start collecting those too. It became fun to find all the oddball instruments that you can find. And there’s a lot of them out there.”

A collection of antique and unusual musical instruments are on display at the Brick Township municipal building. (Photo courtesy Brick Township Historical Society)

  Bonnie began her collection in the early 2000s. They consist of playable instruments and also antiques that are not usable. Bonnie explained that she personally doesn’t restore instruments and likes to keep them in the natural state that they’re in.

  “Sometimes if it’s a really unique antique and very different I will get it, even if it’s not playable because it’s so interesting to see and touch,” Bonnie said. “A lot of times with antiques the wood has gotten dried or brittle or has cracks in it. You have to be careful with an antique if you try to re-string it and play it because some of them are not playable.”

  Some of Bonnie’s favorite pieces that she owns includes a fife from World War I along with an army song book.

  “It is not very playable, it’s a little warped, but I love it. I love looking at it,” Bonnie said.

  Another one of her favorite pieces is an Appalachian mountain dulcimer from the 1960s that is handcrafted by Jean Ritchie, who is known as the “Mother of Folk.”

  “It’s handmade by Jeanie Ritchie, and her husband and uncle. The three of them made this instrument and it’s one of 300 that they made. It’s very rare to find one of hers,” Bonnie said.

  Today, Bonnie is still collecting, admiring, and teaching the history of these instruments, despite not being able to play anymore. She shared that six years ago, she suffered an injury that left her incapable of playing.

  “I can’t play any of my instruments anymore. I lost my career and it’s heartbreaking,” she said.

  However, Bonnie has faith that she will be able to play again.

  “I’m not giving up the hope that maybe one day I can start up again. You never know,” Bonnie said.

  You can check out Bonnie’s collection that is on display at the Brick Township municipal building located at 401 Chambers Bridge Road.