During working hours, Mark Shearburn of Peoria is a caregiver for Home Instead Senior Care in Morton. For several evenings each month as a self-employed music practitioner, he plays music for senior citizens like those he provides care for during the day.

Shearburn has been a musician for the greater part of his life. He graduated in 1982 from the University of Western Michigan with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Musical Performance and has been studying, teaching, writing songs and performing music ever since. After completing the Music for Healing and Transition Program at the University of Loyola Medical Center in 2015, he became a certified music practitioner. In that capacity, Shearburn visits retirement homes in the tri-county area three or four times a month to perform musical therapy sessions for the residents. Music practitioners provide soothing, unobtrusive music not as entertainment but as a service. 

“Mostly, I play music for groups,” said Shearburn. “But I do play one-on-one sessions sometimes, in someone’s home or a residence facility or a hospital. I play ballads and jazz to entertain but also to calm and relax people. Music has a very calming effect on people who are in physical or emotional distress.”

Results of substantial clinical research, Shearburn added, support the theory that live acoustic music at a patient’s bedside has a variety of physical and emotional benefits, ranging from reducing blood pressure and decreasing muscular tension to relieving anxiety and fostering a sense of safety and well-being.

“Being a music practitioner is rewarding in a lot of ways,” Shearburn said. “A musician, whose job is to entertain, might be insulted to have audience members fall asleep. For a music practitioner, whose job is to soothe and relax, having people I’m playing for fall asleep tells me I’ve done the job well. I also enjoy having my music bring back memories, because music can trigger recall, and I get to help elderly people recall their younger days.”

Shearburn’s instruments of choice in his work as a certified music practitioner are the alto flute and the tenor saxophone. He chooses the alto flute for one-on-one sessions and plays both the alto flute and the tenor saxophone for group sessions.

“The alto flute is lower in pitch than a normal flute,” Shearburn said. “It’s a warmer, gentler sound. I typically play folk melodies, music from Appalachia or nursery rhymes. I want to create a calming environment, so I don’t want anything that’s blaring too loud. When I play for a group, I play with a piano and drum accompaniment on my iPad. I don’t play anything up-tempo because, again, I’m there to help people relax. I prefer ballads from the 1930s and 1940s, just because a lot of people I play for recognize them.”

Shearburn offers one-on-one sessions and group performances. He can be contacted at 815-876-7487 or via email at mshrbrn@yahoo.com.