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Song Spotlight: “Don’t Fence Me In”

  • Mood: Relaxed
  • Themes: Country life, Cowboys, Restrictions, Being “Fenced In”
  • Tempo: Moderate
  • Genre/style: Western/Cowboy

Being in the Midwest, I run into a lot of folks who love country and western music. “Don’t Fence Me In” is one of my very favorite songs to offer when western music is requested, for two reasons:

  1. It’s popular, so a lot of people can sing at least part of it along with me.
  2. It can open up a discussion about feeling restricted or “fenced in” by a client’s diagnosis, declining health, or placement in a facility.

I was somewhat surprised to learn that this song was written by Cole Porter, who is better known for jazz standards like “Night and Day” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” In fact, Cole Porter said this was his least favorite of his own songs. That didn’t stop famous performers like Kate Smith, Bing Crosby, the Andrews Sisters, and Ella Fitzgerald from recording the song, though. And, of course, this song was a signature piece for Roy Rogers, the famous singing cowboy of Hollywood.

Here are a few key lines of this song:

Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above
Don’t fence me in
Let me ride through the wide open country that I love
Don’t fence me in
Let me be by myself in the evening breeze
And listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees
Send me off forever but I ask you please

Don’t fence me in

Of course, this song is great just as a starting point for talking about country living, cowboy tales and Western movies. What I really love, though, is that the fence provides a great metaphor for talking about the restrictions that come with aging. Many of the clients I work with feel penned in somehow:

  • They’re stuck in a wheelchair or a bed and can’t move without help.
  • They can no longer drive their cars to go where they want when they want.
  • They have family or friends telling them what to do or making decisions without them.
  • They have memory slips or confusion that keep them from thinking on their feet.
  • The effects of a stroke have left them without the ability to say what they are thinking.
  • They find themselves behind a locked door and can’t seem to make it to the outside.

For clients who have the cognitive ability to hold a conversation about this song, I ask them what seems to be fencing them in. To make this concrete and visual, you could ask clients to write down or draw their “fences” on the picture of a fence before singing the song again. The tone of this discussion could be serious or more lighthearted, depending on the needs of the client or group of clients.

For clients who cannot hold a discussion on what is fencing them in, this song can simply serve as musical validation of the feelings a person seems to be experiencing. For example, if a person is trying to get through a locked door on the memory care floor of a nursing home, I might sing this song for them and reflect verbally that they must be feeling hemmed in. That way, the song can perhaps serve as a container for the frustration that person is feeling, so they can then come back to the music therapy group or regular activity programming.

Do you know people who love western music? Have you brought this song into the time you spend with your clients or loved ones? Please share your story below!

This post is part of an occasional series on special songs to share with your loved ones. For more song spotlights, click here.

 

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