Friday, January 29, 2016

January Music Therapy Advocacy Month

The following is a blog post from PMAC's Music Therapist, Virginia Macdonald. We hope you enjoy it!

Virginia Macdonald works with a Music Therapy client at PMAC.
January is music therapy advocacy month.  I am a music therapist and decided that this is the year I am going to toot my industry's horn! Pun totally intended. With any therapy, it is in the relationship with another that one comes to understand something new about themselves.  In music therapy, I think we have an added advantage - we are working in music, which most people already have some relationship with.  What is unique is that at the end of the session, our clients have new resources they can tap into, and more open networks of communication with the self that are therapeutic, thought-provoking, or physically/biologically stimulating. There is no 'one size fits all' method of music therapy, as each person will react to and benefit from different aspects of music. For some, clinical improvisation to practice communicating non-verbally with another, or working on social skills, may be most useful. For others, learning to play an instrument stimulates new responses that dramatically change how they enjoy life and see the world. Whatever the case, it is the process of working in music, and not the end product of performance, where the therapy happens.  I have had the pleasure of working with a woman who is a poet, a philosopher, and has now found her inner musician. I asked her to share a post with me to celebrate music therapy advocacy month and she graciously accepted.  Here is her account of her experience:

The difference between enjoying music and music therapy is simple but profound:  when I catch myself using music to either soothe me or to work through something difficult, it becomes therapeutic.  I’m not sure which is more powerful:  when I deliberately use music to enhance my life, or those fleeting moments when I check in with myself and recognize that I’ve got a few notes in my head and I feel more peaceful than usual.  It may only last a few seconds, but the mindfulness that the music is helping me feel better is the therapy.  It’s right there, at any time, and it’s available to anyone.  The trick is to use it and recognize its value.

I challenge myself with music.  I’m 61, with arthritic hands and a neurologically challenged brain that has a mind of its own.  What was I thinking when I chose to learn how to play the piano?!  Something in my head knew that it was the right decision, even though it still surprises me that I’m a piano student.  The enrichment that decision has provided me with continues to astound me.  The awareness of what the music does for me as I learn the piano has made me recognize that the healing powers of it are constantly in my life.  I sing in my head all the time – who doesn’t?  But when I ask myself what that music is doing for me, it becomes more powerful.  Now I envision my fingers playing notes on the keyboard as I hum notes, sing, or hear a song.  The possibilities of using music for healing become endless.

Language is an essential part of my life, and the music has become a new language to decipher.  It has the same effect for me that my writing does.  It’s a process of discovery and enrichment, and I can find myself playing one little section of a song over and over and over and being enthralled with the relationship between the music and my emotional state as I play.  It doesn’t end there – the experience continues in my head after the practice is over.  It’s a profound connection with my Self.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Special Student Spotlight: Bob Doty

Student Bob Doty Plays in the Fall 2015 Blues and 
Bluegrass concert at the Press Room in Portsmouth.

This month's spotlight goes to one of our adult Saxophone Students, Bob Doty. 

Bob played the piano and the cornet briefly as a child but neither stuck. These early lessons instilled in him a desire to someday learn how to play an instrument. After years or working for the NH Division for Children in child protection and educational services, Bob finally picked up the Saxophone at the age of 58. 

Retired now, Bob spends his time making music with other adult musicians - some who have been playing their entire lives, and some who have gotten an even later start than him. We had the pleasure to ask Bob about his experiences as an adult beginner musician, and the challenges and rewards he's found in music.

Portsmouth Music and Arts Center: How old were you when you started playing the saxophone?

Bob Doty: I was 58. As a kid my parents had me take piano lessons, and later the cornet. Neither were successful but I developed a desire that, some day, I would try again to learn to play an instrument.

PMAC: What made you decide to start playing as an adult?

BD: I went to a Blues Concert several years ago at the Pease Tradeport and one of the groups was the PMAC Adult Blues Band. I loved their performance and in particular the saxophones.  Afterwards, Russ Grazier explained to the crowd that PMAC had a program just for adults and it was open to anyone who ever thought about playing an instrument. It must have been Karma!  I called him a couple of days later. A few weeks later he had me play with the Blues Ensemble, who were very supportive,  and I was hooked.

PMAC: When you started playing, who did you study with? What were your biggest challenges to overcome?

BD: I took lessons with Russ [Grazier] and played in several ensembles that that he led. My biggest challenges were and continue to be playing in time and in rhythm. I have to work to play well. I record most sessions for later review and practice at home a few times a week.

PMAC: You've been a participant of many ensembles here at PMAC. What have you played in? How is playing with others different than making music alone?

BD: I've played in the ensembles that a sax can play in: New Horizons Band; Saxophone Ensemble; Brewery Lane Big Band,  Jazz Pioneers and Adventurers; and the Blues Band. It is very enjoyable to play in a live forum, to be part of the music and not just listening to yourself, which tends to get boring. Playing with others requires discipline, listening to others and becoming part of something bigger than yourself.   
PMAC: What do you feel that playing the saxophone brings to your life?

BD: I have met some very nice people who come from different backgrounds but all have a common purpose; to play music. When I play I feel a sense of joy, even when I'm just practicing. Playing with others in a live band and making music is a great feeling. A year ago I started playing the Ukulele in a group at the Dover Senior Center and I get a similar feeling so it's not just limited to the sax. It just feels terrific.

PMAC: What would you recommend to someone looking to learn how to play an instrument at any age?

BD: I think may people are afraid that they'll embarrass themselves or they are just waiting for some kind of push to get them going. Consider this the push. Learning to play can be hard but it's loads of fun when you actually hear notes coming from your instrument. People at PMAC are very supportive, so just come in and give it a try.

Thank you, Bob! 

If you're interested in learning to play an instrument or begin your visual arts education, whether you're a novice or already an advanced artist - PMAC has something for you! Head over to our website and sign up today!