Written by Jon Minners
Music has been known to heal the figurative heart after an emotional loss of a loved one or breakup with a significant other. Music has been known to help students do better in school, expanding the mind and enabling them to retain more information. Music is also changing the way doctors look at treatments for such neurological disorders as brain and spinal chord injuries, strokes, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.
Beth Abraham Health Services, with the help of such star power as techno music icon Moby, are leading the way in showcasing the astounding medical healing benefits of music. The Institute for Music and Neurological Function (IMNF) at Beth Abraham, a skilled nursing facility and rehabilitation center are doing this with the Music Has Power Club Recording Studio.
With the support of music therapists, the studio provides a medium for creativity and rehabilitation by using equipment such as electronic drums to devices that translate movement to sound to help patients advance their physical, cognitive and emotional goals through composition, performance and self-expression. And they thought rock and roll would warp people’s minds; how wrong they were.
“With the addition of the recording studio, we’ve been able to assist patients in many areas, from recovering speech to regaining physical function,” said music therapist and Institute director Dr. Concetta Tomaino. “Through the commitment of people like Moby, we are able to further our mission by expanding our services to include a recording studio dedicated to awaken hidden creative talent, while meeting rehabilitation goals through an innovative approach.”
Moby, who has made millions of dollars through his music, heard and seen on radio and MTV, has involved himself in a number of different causes throughout the years, hoping to give back to the fans that have helped him become a success. He first became involved with Beth Abraham, several years ago, visiting Edwin Stern, the chairman of the music program. Moby was friends with the family and upon seeing the work they had accomplished with patients through music since the program opened in 1993, decided he could help make a difference in those patients’ lives.
Moby quickly joined the Institute board in 2003 and was a major factor in the success of a fundraiser held some time after to raise money for the Music Has Power program. In addition to Moby’s appearance, the event featured performances and presentations from an A-list of actors, musicians and media personalities, including Kevin Bacon, Walter Cronkite, Chris Martin of Coldplay and Gwyneth Paltrow. Other well-known names helping out on the event committee were Bronx actress Connie Sellecca, her husband John Tesh and Ben Vereen. The event helped honor those who have helped patients heal through music and those patients, who have grown through leaps and bounds through the power of the audio art form.
Trevor Gibbons knows what it is like to heal through music. He arrived at Beth Abraham after suffering a stroke in both the left and right sides of the brain and spinal cord injury. Gibbons turned to music and actually recorded a six song CD using the facility’s studio. “When I start to sing, it opens up my mind and I think there’s nothing I can’t do,” he said. “I never imagined myself completing a musical recording, but through the efforts of my music therapists, their encouragement and my persistence, I have brought my dream to reality.”
Intrigued by the studio and touched by the people who have benefited from the program, Moby went one step further and started donating recording equipment that he no longer needed, to the facility, so that they would have a state-of-the-art recording studio to expand upon the growth they have already accomplished with patients. He has also gotten other artists to donate equipment, stating that with the constant evolution of recording gear, many musicians have closets filled with equipment they no longer use and could put to good use. Moby believes Beth Abraham has certainly made dynamic uses of those gifts.
“I’ve been up here three or four times and I remember when their recording studio was just an office down the hall,” recalls the musician. “Now they have this new studio for the patients to use. The circumstances that led them to be in the hospital are really tragic, but the work that is being done at Beth Abraham is remarkable and what the patients have created is really good. I am gratified to see the work of the Institute expanding, and proud to have been able to make a difference.”
As a result of the expansion, more than 40 patients every week are making their own music, recording their own CDs, and restoring function at Beth Abraham. These songwriters include a professional musician who suffered brain damage in a tragic accident and a small elderly woman in a wheelchair who excels on the tambourine. The program has helped victims of neurological disorders with a number of rehabilitative measures.
“The work of the Music Therapy Department at Beth Abraham helps make a vital difference in the health and well being of our patients,” said Michael Fassler, president and CEO of Beth Abraham. “Our music therapists work with these individuals every day using music to enhance speech, mobility and improve memory.”
First, by playing a drum to increase range of motion in the arm, exercising to up-beat music or timing music to match the natural walking rhythm, patients increase their movement and muscle control. Second, because they are exercising the muscles of their mouth, setting phrases to music, first singing the word and then transferring it to speech and rhyming, chanting or rapping, they are increasing their speech and communication skills. In addition, patients create songs with lyrics containing important information to increase their cognition and write, record, perform and listen to songs to improve their mood, motivation and pain management.
Stern states that no other institution has a recording studio that integrates the type of technology provided by musicians like Moby and believes residents in the Bronx suffering from any neurological disorder would benefit from their music therapy program. “We have all felt the thrill, that inexplicable moment when we are moved beyond words by great music,” he said. “I have long been aware of the power of music to enhance and enrich our lives. We are trying to inform people about the exciting potential of music/brain research, and its applications in the promotion of health, well being and creativity, and in the treatment of neurological disabilities. We are trying to bring the power of music and music therapy to those whose lives it can transform.”
For one such patient named Denise, the unique form of therapy has changed her life and her outlook on the future. “Because of music therapy, I look forward to another day,” she said.
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