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Maine Music Therapist Kate Beever '07 Finds A Tonic In A Tune

Published: Tuesday, December 17, 2013
Written by: Timothy Gillis
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Feeling better has never sounded so good. That's what clients with several area health agencies are finding when they engage in music therapy — singing and dancing and playing a variety of instruments — as a way to counter the most challenging of physical and emotional ailments.

Kate Beever, a music therapist with Maine Music and Health, a Portland-based company she started, has clients from York to Lewiston. For the past three years, she has avoided the call to other cities with established organizations and better pay so she can witness the music-as-therapy movement here in Maine. Call it good vibes.

Beever plays the vibraphone and percussion for the Zach Jones Band, which came out with a new CD Wednesday called "The Days." She also plays with Beevermccain, an eclectic jazz duo.

"The vibes are like the xylophone, but metal and bigger, with a motor inside in," explains Beever. "You step on a pedal to make the motor go. It was used in a lot of Motown music.

"A couple of interns — Carmen Parker from the University of New England and Brian Arlet from the University of Southern Maine — help her use music to work with patients with brain injuries, cancer, developmental disabilities, and dementia. (Arlet is also coordinator of music/education at Mayo Street Arts Center.)

Beever grew up in Gorham, graduating high school in 2003. She went to USM for an undergrad degree in music performance as a percussionist and went on to New York University to study music therapy.

She is one of only four music therapists in Maine. Insurance companies are just starting to recognize the health benefits of a musical regimen, but she believes the sea change will come soon. Meanwhile, she is drawn to the little improvements her clients make with each session.

"I find out about their musical tastes," Beever said. "Usually they are not musicians. I find out what their non-musical goals are."

Once she finds out more about their interests, she works towards four areas of improvement: physical, social, emotional and cognitive.

"I have a 10-year-old client in a wheelchair, and we try to get him to extend his range of motion by playing drums. He'll hold the mallets, and I'll hold the drum up to the side and get him to try to reach for it," she said.

She approaches the social area by using drums for rhythm activities, "with groups at hospitals or day facilities where you're working on communication, turn-taking, and patience."

Some of the strongest breakthroughs come with clients who are able to forge an emotional bond to the music.

"There's a nostalgic connection for people with music," Beever said. "People suffering from depression or end-of-life care — music is good for relaxation and de-stressing. Having someone in palliative care say goodbye to their family through singing isn't a happy occasion, but it's a special one."

Some of the health gains most easily discernible come in the cognitive area.

"If I'm working with someone with a brain injury, and he is trying to regain his speech, I will play a song and sing it with him, but slow it down so he can work on his speech through singing. When you're singing, you're using more of your brain than when you're just speaking."

Working in the healthcare field has its tough days. "Moodwise, if someone is closed off and doesn't want to participate, it's hard to get them to want to make music," she said, but emphasized that there are just as many good times. "I had a client who was playing drums, and didn't have good use of his left arm. He started using it while drumming and became able to use it in the rest of his life."

With Alzheimer care, there are a lot of really nice moments when people will remember a song and sit at the piano and play it, then talk to their family about it.

Maine Music and Health sometimes takes its show on the road. Beever has worked with the Portland Symphony Orchestra on a music and wellness program, and she visited New England Rehab with local orchestra musicians who provided the music while she worked with the patients.

"A physical therapist and I guided a dance movement to the music, as well as a guided relaxation," she said. For all her professional success, Beever has decided to stay local and watch the industry grow instead of taking a better-paying job with a bigger company elsewhere.

"It's hard, because there are really god jobs for music therapists in the country, but I love Portland and wanted to start the program here," she said. "Part of the battle is that insurance doesn't cover it in Maine. Some other states do cover it, and it's getting better here, but it's taken a lot of education." She speaks at conferences around the state, hoping insurance companies will come to see the value of musical medicine. "It will take a lot of extra work, but I've definitely seen progress here."

She works with a group of women with breast cancer at York Hospital who did not come from a musical background.

"I started with drums, talking about their favorite song," she said. "They decided to write their own song for other breast cancer survivors, about being strong. They recorded the song and would like to sell it to raise money for the cause."

Beever decided recently that her clients should dream big, and see themselves on a main stage someday, under the spotlights. She worked with the State Theatre to arrange a tour for her Affinity clients, as well as music therapy guests from several other area agencies. Musicians from Momentum, Bomb Diggity, and Creative Trails joined them at the State Theatre last week.

Monique Barrett manages the music program at Momentum and works with Bomb Diggity Arts, one of their programs. At their offices in Windham, Brunswick and Casco, Momentum has drum sets, keyboards and guitars for their clients to play.

 Barrett, who works primarily with young adults with physical and emotional disabilities, describes what she witnesses when they make a musical breakthrough.

"Some clients who speak very little are able to express themselves more through singing and dancing, which builds confidence in them and brings them out of their shells," Barrett said.

Andreas Aronsson, from Bomb Diggity, works with clients there creating short films. They have two film festivals a year, teaming up with the Art Department, next door to the State Theatre, to show all the short films in "TV Show," which is also shown at SPACE Gallery.

"We make zombie movies, music videos, comedy skits," Aronsson said. One such short, created by James Ostrow, is a silent, black-and-white film of James chasing his elusive hat.

"The artists at Bomb Diggity write the scripts and put the films together for the TV Show," Aronsson said. They also write songs — the music and lyrics — and record them at Bomb Diggity.

"We hope to have a CD out this spring. We've had a huge response from the people of Portland." They are planning their next TV Show for the beginning of March 2014.

Eric Schwan, from Creative Trails, has been working with his clients for four years. For the past year and a half, he has been with the music program there, called "Listen Up!" and has seen a marked improvement in health.

"A number of folks I work with have responded well to music, he said. "They are talented. A lot of people with autism have incredible ears for music. It's a natural communicator that bridges gaps on a lot of levels."

Schwan uses the mandolin, piano, and rhythm instruments like drums in his work.

"It's a great opportunity for them to make original music and have their voices heard — more so than at other times."

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