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Tom Dalton: Press

The Unsung: A music man for those on measured time

Hospice music therapist Tom Dalton soothes the dying

June 9, 2012, Michael Mayo, Sun Sentinel Columnist


Every day, Tom Dalton sings in the face of death.

"I look at it as an opportunity to bring joy to people," Dalton said.

Dalton is a hospice music therapist. He works with the dying and their families, using music to soothe and heal.

Sometimes he serenades patients with their favorite songs on his guitar. Sometimes he collaborates with patients to write original songs based on their life experiences, recording "life-review CDs" for their families. Sometimes he brings tambourines and maracas, so the sick can move and groove for a bit.

And sometimes he just sits, listening to the feelings and fears of those who don't have much time left.

"People allow me in at some of the most difficult and sensitive moments of their lives," said Dalton.

Many people shy away from disease and death in our society. And then there are those like Dalton, a calm, compassionate man whose job is comforting the afflicted. For that, I salute him as one of The Unsung, those ordinary folks who make South Florida a better place, and whose deeds I chronicle here from time to time.

Dalton who grew up in West Palm Beach and lives in Lake Worth, has been a music therapist for over 20 years. He began specializing in hospice work over 12 years ago. He has worked for VITAS Innovative Hospice Care for two years.

"It's a calling," said Dalton. "You do develop bonds with people and it's difficult when they go, but this work is tremendously gratifying."

Dalton works with patients of all ages, from kids stricken with cancer to the elderly suffering from dementia.

One time, he was called to a hospital room where a mother lay dying. The family requested "Summertime" from "Porgy and Bess," which the mother sang to her daughter when they were younger. Dalton sang, "One of these mornings you're going to rise up singing, then you'll spread your wings and you'll take to the sky."

At that moment, the mother reached out, grasped her daughter's hand and took her last breath.

"It can be incredibly emotional work," Dalton said.

On the day I followed him, he brought his guitar to the small apartment of Frances Leddy, 92, who lives in a Plantation assisted living center.

Leddy has a terminal respiratory disease, and her husband of 70 years, Ed, died in February. She breathes with the help of oxygen tubes, her memory is spotty and she complains of constant pain.

She looked sad and uncomfortable when Dalton pulled up a stool next to her. They spoke about her husband, her children and grandchildren, and how she used to play golf. He asked if she wanted to sing along. "I can hardly breathe – I don't know if I can sing," Leddy said.

But after he serenaded her with "All of Me," she smiled and said, "That's one way to get rid of the pain."

And when he sang the Beatles' "Let It Be," Leddy melted back on the sofa with her eyes closed, looking completely at peace. "I wish I could have a concert like that every day," she said.

"I consider this job a privilege," Dalton told me. or 954-356-4508.

Nostalgic America Magazine


December 2011

Patients find comfort in many ways. VITAS Innovative Hospice Care® offers music therapy for many reasons

The 90-year-old woman has Alzheimer’s disease. She is withdrawn and rarely communicates. Yet when Tom Dalton enters her room, her face lights up. He takes out his guitar and plays a familiar tune. Together, they sing “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.” She becomes animated, singing, smiling, moving in her wheelchair. She’s transported to a time when she was dancing with her husband on their wedding day.

Tom is a board certified music therapist and licensed mental health counselor for VITAS Innovative Hospice Care® of Broward County. He works to improve the quality of life for the terminally ill patients served by VITAS in the South Florida area.

Research has shown that for those who are facing life-limiting illnesses, music therapy can decrease pain and symptoms that are difficult to control with medication, promote deeper breathing, help to manage a patient’s anxiety and agitation and provide an outlet for emotional expression and a means of coping. At VITAS, the music therapist works closely with the other members of the care team to meet each patient's physical, emotional, cognitive, social, and spiritual needs.

“Music opens up pathways in the brain to memory and emotion and can change withdrawal and isolation into joyful interaction,” says Tom. 

Tom spends his days at hospitals, nursing facilities and homes of hospice patients and their families.  He brings his guitar, music and various instruments but more importantly, he brings a sense of empathy, compassion and caring which communicates through his music.

In a family session with an 82-yr-old man with Parkinson’s disease, his daughter and granddaughter, certain songs from the 1940s trigger reminiscing and storytelling from the patient. Tom works with the family to create an original song together incorporating their stories into lyrics and music.  “Songwriting is such a powerful way to validate and celebrate a patient’s life.” He then makes a CD for the family as an audio keepsake. 

“I believe strongly in the power of music to bring a sense of joy, comfort and peace to hospice patients and their families and I’m committed to ensuring excellent, state-of-the-art music therapy services at VITAS,” says Tom.

"The Memory Man"

A local musician uses the power of song to lead Alzheimer's patients back in time.

The memories, when they come, dart through his mind like hummingbirds, swift and elusive.

Most days, he can't remember that he left school in the 10th grade to build a house for his mother, that he served in the U.S. Army for 22 years, that he once spoke Japanese and French and Spanish.

Most days, he sits quietly, his light, cloudy eyes focused on something only he can see.

So Alzen Floyd Sr.'s son and daughter in-law sat him gently in a chair, facing music Therapist Tom Dalton's laptop.

"I've got a little something to show you," Dalton told him, clicking on play.

A photo of Floyd, now 87, looking young and charming, smoking a pipe showed on the screen.

"Oh, wow, Daddy, Look! exclaimed Denise Floyd, squeezing his arm. "Isn't that wonderful?"

Then the music, a wistful guitar introduction leading into Dalton singing:
"I was born in 1919 in a Florida town named Branford, Then the family moved to Waycross, Georgia."
"I made some roots in Fort Lauderdale, I called it Fort Licquordale, that's the place I've always called my home."
"I left school in the 10th grade to build my mother's house, and I lived there 'til six years ago..."

Acompanying each line were black and white family photos -- Floyd as a plump, smiling baby, Floyd with his brothers and sisters, the house he built in Fort Lauderdale.

His face was neutral, registering little expression. Denise and her husband, Alzen Floyd Jr., exclaimed and pointed out the photos. "Remember that, Daddy?"

When a photo of him in Army fatigues, crouched in the bushes with a camera, came onscreen, the corners of his mouth twitched briefly.

And that is enough.

That is enough and that is part of the purpose of Alzheimer's Coummnity Care's Music Therapy Program. For the last several months, clients of the program and their family members, work with Dalton over six to eight weeks, telling him things about thier lives when they can remember them.
From a patchwork of memories, Dalton, the patients and the families collaborate together to write song lyrics and create music to lay under them. With enough family photos, it is the beginning portrait of a life, one now give way to the vagaries of a fluctuating mind.

Music, Dalton explained is so often tied to memory. Because of the way it is processed, it engages both the left and right sides of the brain and aids memory recall, he said. And it is evocative, because sometimes a certain song will take a listener back to a specific moment in time and bring back the sounds, smells and feelings of that moment.

So Dalton uses music to start people with Alzhiemer's telling stories.

"Tell me about yourself" - that's an almost impossible question for them to answer." Dalton said. "But there are songs that might trigger experiences. I might play "New York, New York," and they'll brighten up or start singing along, so I'll ask, Tell me about a time you had fun in New York."

Sometimes, as in the case of Floyd, the people with whom Dalton works are not verbal, "but when we were working together, he would get teary-eyed and hold my hand."

Dalton also involves people's families in the creation of a song, as a way to recognize thier concerns and hard work as caregivers.

When Dalton recorded Floyd's song, Alzen Floyd Jr. harmonized on the chorus:

"The Carrier of the Family, a father and a friend, I hope you know how much you mean to me."

"This is hard for us, and I know it's hard for him, his son explained.

First, more than a dozen years ago, Floyd starting getting forgetful. he was living with his sister in Fort Lauderdale, in the house he built for his mother.

"She had diabetes, so he lent her strength, " Denise said. "He was forgetful, she lent him strength."

When she died six years ago, Floyd's son brought him to West Palm Beach to live with his family. It has been, his son said, a blessing to have him near and a burden to see what Alzehimer's has stolen from him. Rarely can he remember his longtime business, Floyd's Photo Service on Northwest 13th Street in Fort Lauderdale, next door to his sister's beauty salon.

He's forgotten the Korean War, in which he served, and how he worked the cash register at his father's restaurant, Al Floyd's Soul Food.

The memories flit away like butterflies before he can catch them. The music and the photos might help.

"It's a validation and a celebration of the life they've lived." said Joan Reedy, a development associate for Alzheimer's Community Care, about the grant-funded music therapy program. "It's a celebration that they still are incredible human beings."

I't enough, she said, that the music can elevate their mood, even if it doesn't summon memories. Depression is common in the end stages of Alzheimer's.

Dalton also does weekly music therapy groups with clients in the day-care program, which includes Floyd, singing old, familiar songs that sometimes trigger memories and stories.

"Music hath charms, " William Congreve wrote, "to soothe the savage beast." Sometimes, though, it's effects are quieter, gentler. Sometimes it has charms to help an old man remember, if only briefly, the richness of his life.

Boy Heals in Song


sean gokart1

(Sep 30, 2010)

sean go cart2

Sean lost his brother-and best friend- suddenly, and a hospice program for children is helping him smile again.

By Shana Gruskin

In January, Timothy Brown left home to play a pickup game of basketball with some friends. He never came back. “He had been gone about two hours when the phone call came that said he had passed out on the court,” said his mother Pearlie Brown, of West Palm Beach. “They took him to Columbia Hospital. That’s when the pronounced him dead.”

At 17, Tim Brown was brimming with possibilities. He had just finished his first season as a football player for Palm Beach Lakes High School, catching four interceptions and earning an all-area honorable mention. He was a runner and a charmer, know for his dazzling smile. He was on his way to South Carolina State on a football scholarship. But more than any of that, Tim was Sean Brown’s big brother.

He was the 11-year old’s water-balloon enemy, his candy sharing nemesis, his Pokemon-watching partner, and his best friend. Without him, Sean – the youngest of the three Brown brothers – was lost, afraid, silent. Less than a month after Tim died of what later was diagnosed as an undetected heart defect, Sean began complaining that his chest hurt. “I took him to the emergency room and they tested him,” Pearlie Brown said. “They couldn’t find anything. “We went to the pediatrician’s office: they couldn’t find anything.” Pearlie Brown even took Sean to a pediatric cardiologist. No sign of trouble. “They determined it was just anxiety,” she said.

Sean wouldn’t sleep in the room he used to share with Tim. A few times a week, he’d call his mother at work, saying he was sick and needed to come home from school. “He would think of any reason he wasn’t feeling any good,” Pearlie Brown said. “Eventually, it did stop once he started the counseling.”

In March, Sean began music therapy at Hospice of Palm Beach County. Cocooned in the electric music room, he began writing rap songs, and there, lyric-by-lyric, note-by-note, Sean began to release his grief. “They help you cope with it,” he said.

When most people think of hospice, they think, “it’s a place, they’re old and they have cancer.” Said Sue Deakin, director of community development. “That’s a very small percent of our program.” Instead hospice is a concept, providing direct care to the dying, as well as support and bereavement programs to loved ones. What Pearlie Brown didn’t know is that Palm Beach County’s 21-year-old hospice also offers free counseling to children. The program sends crisis teams to schools after a student or employee dies. It provides therapy to children who are losing a family member to a terminal illness. It also offers support groups for those who lose a loved one suddenly.

“For a while Sean didn’t want to talk about it.” Pearlie Brown said of Tim’s death.”…Now he can laugh. He makes jokes about him.” Every Tuesday, Sean meets with Tom Dalton, a music therapist. In a room cluttered with stuffed animals, mats and instruments, the two strum electric guitars, bang the drums and rattle out impromptu songs. All the words, all the music, center on Sean’s memories of Tim.

“Music is a wonderful way of addressing some of the grief issues,” said Dalton, who treated about 500 children last year. “Music is a way for children to express the intensity of their feelings.” Sometimes, he said, words aren’t enough. For example, just saying you’re sad or angry at someone’s death doesn’t capture the same level of emotion as pounding on a drum or stroking a piano’s keys. Music Therapy also opens doors to talking to children about loss, anger, spirituality and the other gritty remnants the death of a loved one leaves behind. It teaches them how to handle their grief so it doesn’t metastasize into resentment and guilt, Deakin said. It teaches them how to find closure without losing their connection to the person who died.

It was through music that Sean finally told Dalton about Tim’s broken promise to him. “Me and him liked to race,” Sean said. “He liked driving cars and I liked riding my bike.” The two brothers had planned to combine their passions and build a go-cart together after Tim graduated from high school. When Dalton heard about the plan, he was thrilled. “This might be an excellent way for him to get in touch with some of the feelings and do something positive in memory of his brother.”

So Dalton began researching go-carts. Eventually he found a non-motorized one in a catalogue from Canada. The boxy, $400 red-and-blue machine now is parked in Dalton’s music therapy classroom. Sean and two neighborhood friends are decorating it in Tim’s honor. Across it’s nose, the number 13 stands out – Tim’s jersey number. Photos, mementos and drawings pepper the rest of its body. An orange dragon, the most powerful of all Pokemon characters, sits ready to pounce on the front of the cart. The seat boasts a stoic 8 by 10 glossy of Tim in full football regalia. A slab of wood next to the seat eventually will hold a portable CD payer. The player will belt out Sean’s own rap songs about Tim.

Sean, who’s kind of shy, still doesn’t talk freely about Tim to strangers. But when he picks up the microphone in Dalton’s music therapy classroom or points out a photo on his glistening go-cart, he lets the recollections wash over him. And instead of clamming up, Sean revels in what Dalton refers to as his “moving canvas of memories.”

Shana Gruskin - Sun-Sentinel

Hurricane Songs For Kids

By Don Jordan

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Saturday, August 05, 2006

WEST PALM BEACH — Tom Dalton turns from the circle of anxious preschoolers seated on the floor and clicks a button on the CD player — the show has begun.

The kids at Clark Forest Hill Montessori School call out the song before the singing even begins. Dalton has visited before.

"I wonder what a hurricane sounds like," Dalton sings as the music starts, echoing his voice coming from the CD player and the voices of the children around him.

He strums his guitar while the youngsters hold a variety of simple instruments — tambourines, maracas, drums — that they shake and pound when the song prompts them to make the sound of waves, wind and coconuts flying by in a storm.

Before long, the small schoolroom is enveloped in a thunderous noise of singing and laughter that would make most people reach for the storm shutters.

And while the 3- and 4-year-olds are all smiles, Dalton has not come to the school just to entertain.

The music therapist and mental health counselor released Hurricane Songs for Kids last month. The nine-track CD is meant to help children cope with the emotional troubles of a hurricane. With songs such as My Little Flashlight, Sometimes I Get So Scared and What a Hurricane Sounds Like, Dalton, sings about everything from preparing a hurricane kit to having a post-storm party with neighbors.

The idea is that when children understand a hurricane and know what to expect, they will be more relaxed and confident when a storm hits, he said.

"I wanted to give (parents) a tool," Dalton said Thursday. He hopes youngsters who listen to the CD will take a proactive approach to dealing with a hurricane.

"It's important for kids to be part of that process, not just waiting in the background."

The CD was born from experiences in both his personal and professional life. As a counselor, Dalton has worked with families traumatized by hurricanes. As father of 7-year-old Deanna, he remembers the fear she had as hurricanes battered the area in recent years.

Dalton hopes families will listen to the CD together.

"It's a needed thing for parents to talk to their kids about this," he said. "(Children) don't have a lot of resources to know what to do."

Dalton is trying to change that this summer by spreading his music and message through workshops at preschools and summer camps.

He is on vacation from his job at Indian Ridge School, a special-education school in suburban West Palm Beach that serves students who have mental illnesses.

Principal Sherri Kelty said Dalton recently gave her a copy of Hurricane Songs for Kids, and she was very impressed.

"He is just extremely talented," Kelty said.

Bee Clark, director and lead teacher at Clark Forest Hill Montessori, said the school often plays Dalton's CD, and students are receptive.

They should be. They provided the background vocals on the recording, credited as the Clark Montessori Children's Choir. A pair of Lake Worth youths also contribute raps on two songs.

"It's good for children because they are so freaked out by the hurricanes," Clark said, adding that she remembers being frightened of the sounds of a hurricane as a young girl.

At the end of Thursday's performance, with the lights off, Dalton asks the youngsters to lie down and close their eyes. He turns on Hurricane Lullaby, a soft, guitar-picked tune, and the kids pretend to sleep.

Dalton watches over them, clutching his guitar and singing along. The children keep quiet until one makes an exaggerated snoring noise and the room erupts in giggles.

"This opens up the communication," Dalton said later. "That way, when a hurricane comes, the kids will say, 'Hey, I know about that.' "

When the Hurricane Comes

Native South Floridian Tom Dalton has experienced his share of hurricanes. Over the past two years, the mental health counselor and music therapist has also seen the emotional toll the storms can bring.

"I've worked with a lot of people that really lost their homes and were just devastated by the experience of hurricanes," said Dalton.

So he decided to help people deal with the storms through music. "Category Five" is a tongue-in-cheek song about living with hurricanes.

His CD entitled "When the Hurricane Comes" has 14 songs all about the powerful storms.

"There's everything from rock, blues, reggae, country, there's also a children's song."

Dalton says each song provides valuable information about hurricanes, history, preparing your home for a storm, and when you may have to evacuate.

"There's also a hurricane supply song that gives you an entire list of what you need to purchase for your hurricane kit," said Dalton.

The singer songwriter hopes that his unique idea will help Florida residents get through yet another year of storms.

"I really hope that they get a sense of comfort in the music that they can go through hurricanes and experience it in a better way."


Dalton's "When the Hurricane Comes" CD costs $15.00 dollars.

If you would like a copy, you can send an e-mail to
Review of “When the Hurricane Comes”

As Floridians hasten to prepare for what has become the inevitability of yet another devastating hurricane season, they would be wise to consider including the purchase of Tom Dalton’s recently released CD. With over 10 years of experience as a counselor and music therapist, Mr. Dalton brings laudable credentials along with his musical talents to the composition of this eclectic blend of sounds and sensibilities.

There are 14 songs in his collection which address the pre, peri and post concerns of facing Nature’s formidable forces. Using a variety of rhythmic styles ranging from rock to country, Mr. Dalton offers both empathy and advice in his lyrics. Transforming the all-too-familiar fears of powerlessness into acceptance and effectiveness, Mr. Dalton ultimately succeeds in making the listener feel a sense of identity with the ocean’s magnificence rather than its destructiveness.

It is clear that Mr. Dalton has done his homework in preparing this CD for the public. Sensitive to the paralysis of abject terror, he makes the phenomena of hurricanes manageable through the process of preparation and planning. With practical suggestions contextualized in rhythm and rhyme, Mr. Dalton presents a joyful option substituting efficacious behaviors for thalamic freeze.

With the winds and the worries of Jeanne, Francis, Katrina and Wilma still resonating in our minds, it makes great sense to include the palliative comfort of Mr. Dalton’s melodies along with batteries and lamps. By empowering potential ‘victims’, he miraculously transforms them into confident planners. Mr. Dalton’s CD is cultural counseling in synchronized syncopation. Astute storm preparations should include purchasing multiple copies of “When the Hurricane Comes”. The wise consumer can then welcome the collective family energies it will inspire as they ready for yet another season of euphemistically labeled turbulence!
Dr. Laura Mardyks, Assistant Principal
"When the Hurricane Comes," captures experiences shared by so many. With a fun mix of styles, this CD provides music to relate to as well as a valuable therapeutic and educational tool."
Deri Dinnan, LMHC
Tom Dalton’s song writing skills and broad musical range have come through to create an ingenious CD with before, during, and after hurricane appeal. From the bluesy bravado of “Category 5” to the resigned acceptance of “Nothing,” the material spans the cone of emotional probability associated with the southeastern hurricane experience. You’ve got hurricane history here too, not to mention prep advice for the next big one. Don’t just Hunker Down. Get Down with this enjoyable piece of work!
Rod Burk LCSW


Review of Visualize:

When singer/songwriter Tom Dalton sings "Wake Up," from his new CD entitled "Visualize," he's not singing about rising from a good night's rest. He is singing about taking a new, positive direction in life. "The kind of songs I try to write are songs that will motivate and inspire people to be all that they can be," says Dalton. "I want to trigger that little spring inside the heart that makes you say to yourself, "Hey, I'm really special and I'm going to get out there and make something of my life."
Palm Beach Post
He is tired of the same old kind of music so he writes his own and then performs it too. His music is "inspirational music," said Dalton, who is also a guitarist. "It is positive music that can help you when you are down." Born and raised in West Palm Beach, Dalton has spent time in Nashville and Los Angeles, but didn't fit into the country music mold," he said. He has been writing songs all his life. His repertoire includes "Wake Up," a song that motivates people to get out of the dumps; "Tomorrowland," which is about procrastination and "Visualize," which emphasizes positive thinking.
Miami Herald
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