Concord, NH --The Concord Community Music School is being recognized at the 2014 Riverbend Awards Ceremony this fall for its ground breaking work in the field of music therapy. Over the past few years Peggy Senter, founder and president of the Community Music School, has pioneered the development of innovative music therapy programs and worked with schools, preschools, public housing, and other human service agencies to bring music to individuals who otherwise would not have access to music education. Out of the 1,400 students seen weekly, 400 are considered special needs students due to income, distance, or disability. For that work, Senter is one of the 2014 recipients of the Champions for Mental Health Award.
The idea that music can heal, inspire and help us access our deepest emotions is not new. But recent discoveries are proving its efficacy as a bona fide method of therapy across the health spectrum. And the Music School is increasingly embracing these methods as part of its mission.
The Music School offers a myriad of programs that use music as the means to generate better mental and physical wellbeing. “We’re trying to think of the whole continuum, from playing piano at a nursing home to intensive music therapy sessions,” Senter said.
Instructors have experienced the most dramatic results from music therapy work with students who have disabilities. Julien Oberheim, who with her extensive experience and training has led the development of many of these classes, uses music to help children who have speech and language delays as well as disabilities such as autism. “Oberheim tells us really moving stories. Sometimes kids make their first eye contact in one of her sessions,” Senter said.
Similarly inspiring stories come from the Music School’s jazz trio, who have conducted songwriting workshops at the Spaulding Youth Center, a service provider for children with neurological and behavioral challenges. In private sessions, David Tonkin, John Faggiano and Kent Allyn helped the young people put their thoughts on paper, then worked with them to turn their musings into a song. Back at the studio, they added instrumental arrangements before returning to practice with the kids. The project culminated in a live performance for family and friends.
“Here are these teenagers with autism performing for a full audience and making eye contact and singing their original song with a full band behind them. It’s just overwhelming,” Senter said
Julieann Hartley has been conducting weekly therapy sessions with a student Robert, who was diagnosed with Autism. In high school chorus, Robert didn’t sing. Once a week Hartley has encouraged Robert to sing and play drums, guitar, and piano. There’s no doubt that it’s helping Robert. “This is a safe place for him. And the music and rhythm are very grounding,” Hartley said. “He’s very motivated because he really loves it.”
Robert has made strides in the area of “joint attention,” a crucial step for people with autism. Working together on a paddle drum to produce the rhythm for the pop song “Cups,” Robert was highly engaged and attentive to Hartley during a recent session. “A few weeks ago, he wouldn’t look at the drum. He’d be looking around the room,” Hartley said. “He’s really come a long way in a short time.”
For Hartley, music therapy is not just thrilling but practical. It’s a multi-purpose tool that transcends compartmentalized ways of thinking about therapy. “In one music therapy song, I can work on a client’s speech therapy goals, O.T. goals, physical therapy, academic goals and behavioral and emotional goals,” she said. “And the best part is, they enjoy it.”
Having seen the transformative powers of music, the Music School is continuously exploring new applications of music therapy. Currently, they are working in a pilot project to provide music therapy services to fragile newborns and their families in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Elliot Hospital. And Songhealers, a subgroup of the popular Songweavers chorus, has begun singing at bedsides at Concord Hospital’s Hospice House. Just last year, the school began a series of classes in partnership with Concord Hospital’s Center for Health Promotion. These classes include promoting heart health through drumming, movement classes to heal the body, and a music class to combat stress, mood swings, and food cravings.
While many of the school’s music therapy initiatives are innovative and cutting-edge, the concept fits neatly within the school’s mission since it was founded in 1984: to reach everyone it can with the beauty of music.
About the Concord Community Music School
Founded in 1984, Concord Community Music School is New Hampshire’s largest community music school and among the 30 largest community arts schools nationally. Its mission is to foster a sense of community through music by providing the fullest possible array of musical experiences for people of all ages, musical abilities, and backgrounds. The School's 1,400 weekly students have ranged in age from 6 months to 90 years and come to the School from more than 100 communities in four states. Recognized nationally for program innovation and management excellence, the School has received major funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Wallace Foundation, the Hearst Foundation, Jane’s Trust, and the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation. For more information go to: https://www.ccmusicschool.org/.