A Van­cou­ver-based char­ity is help­ing to bring mu­sic ther­apy to those who are in need of heal­ing

The Georgia Straight - - Contents - > BY MIKE USINGER

In a half-decade, Mu­sic Heals has gone from a lit­tle-known char­ity to rais­ing a mil­lion dol­lars per year for mu­sic ther­apy.

The ul­ti­mate power of mu­sic is the way it touches nearly ev­ery per­son on the planet. No mat­ter what your eth­nic­ity, re­li­gion, eco­nomic sta­tus, or per­sonal value sys­tem—you’ve likely got a favourite song.

If you’re lucky, you’ll have cher­ished mem­o­ries that are in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked to mu­sic—mar­vel­ling at the North­ern Lights to the Trag­i­cally Hip’s “Grace, Too”, or walk­ing the sweep­ing beaches of Tofino to the med­i­ta­tive majesty of Sigur Rós. For those times when the road gets tough, mu­sic can also make it all seem a lit­tle bet­ter. Any­one who’ll ar­gue oth­er­wise has never reached for Lana Del Ray’s Born to Die or ev­ery­thing by Leonard Co­hen when it seems the dark­ness is never going to lift.

All this is not lost on David Bar­nett and Chris Brandt, the driv­ing forces be­hind Mu­sic Heals. The Van­cou­ver-based national char­ity was launched with the goal of fund­ing mu­sic ther­a­pists—ac­cred­ited pro­fes­sion­als who work ev­ery­where from hos­pi­tals to re­hab fa­cil­i­ties to se­niors’ homes. In the half-decade since it was founded, Mu­sic Heals has given away close to a mil­lion dol­lars, which has been used to make mu­sic ther­apy avail­able to those in need.

In­ter­viewed with Brandt in the Kit­si­lano of­fices of Mu­sic Heals, Bar­nett says he has a the­ory as to why the char­ity has con­nected with the pub­lic.

“The ma­jor­ity of peo­ple you’ll talk to have some sort of re­la­tion­ship with mu­sic one way or an­other,” Bar­nett opines. “Whether it’s lis­ten­ing in the car on the ride home, or late at night, or on the way to school— ev­ery­one has a dif­fer­ent re­la­tion­ship. There are peo­ple who play mu­sic, and doc­tors who use mu­sic. We’ve found that the con­ver­sa­tion about the power of mu­sic is an easy one to get into with any­body.”

In the be­gin­ning, build­ing aware­ness was the goal. The Cana­dian As­so­ci­a­tion of Mu­sic Ther­a­pists de­scribes the pro­fes­sion as fol­lows: “Mu­sic ther­apy is the skill­ful use of mu­sic and mu­si­cal el­e­ments by an ac­cred­ited mu­sic ther­a­pist to pro­mote, main­tain, and re­store men­tal, phys­i­cal, emo­tional, and spir­i­tual health. Mu­sic has non­ver­bal, cre­ative, struc­tural, and emo­tional qual­i­ties. These are used in the ther­a­peu­tic re­la­tion­ship to fa­cil­i­tate con­tact, in­ter­ac­tion, self-aware­ness, learn­ing, self-ex­pres­sion, com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and per­sonal devel­op­ment.”

The idea of mu­sic ther­apy has been around since World War II, when it proved an ef­fec­tive way of treat­ing sol­diers with post­trau­matic stress dis­or­der. Lo­cally, Capi­lano Univer­sity has of­fered a train­ing pro­gram for mu­sic ther­a­pists for the past two decades.

Bar­nett—a for­mer pro­moter who had his life changed by the Grateful Dead—comes from a fam­ily with a his­tory of phi­lan­thropy. Along with his wife, he cre­ated the con­cept for Mu­sic Heals, reg­is­ter­ing the char­ity and then meet­ing with fel­low mu­sic-in­dus­try veter­ans to dis­cuss how the en­deav­our might best work. Get­ting the word out about Mu­sic Heals was cru­cial.

“Our back­ground is that we’re noise­mak­ers— we’re not mu­sic ther­a­pists,” says Brandt, an in­die­rock fan whose ex­pe­ri­ence in­cludes work­ing at Univer­sal Records. “We ex­clu­sively fund ac­cred­ited mu­sic ther­apy. But Dave and I al­ways kind of joke that we’re heads of a fan club. I can rave about a mu­sic ther­a­pist and it’s not ar­ro­gant be­cause I’m not one.”

Gemma Isaac is, un­like Brandt, a trained mu­sic ther­a­pist—she’s been work­ing since 2012 and can cur­rently be found in the Burns, Trauma, Highacu­ity Unit at VGH. Stress­ing that mu­sic ther­apy varies ac­cord­ing to the needs of dif­fer­ent pa­tient groups, she says: “What I do is work bed­side of the pa­tients, and also in the burn show­ers. I bring in my gui­tar or my piano and my­self—i’m a big part of the tool. What I do is pro­vide so­cial, emo­tional, and spir­i­tual sup­port to the pa­tient, and of­ten their fam­i­lies, through the ther­a­putic re­la­tion, which is based in mu­sic.”

Ther­apy starts with an as­sess­ment—isaac is part of the med­i­cal rounds in the morn­ing.

“As a mu­sic ther­a­pist, the real key things that I’m look­ing for are pa­tients who may be suf­fer­ing from anx­i­ety, pain man­age­ment, de­pres­sion—all those are key words for me. I’ll come in and what might look like a fun jam ses­sion—and of­ten it is—is ac­tu­ally a pre­scribed ses­sion, if I was to use hos­pi­tal terms. I’m going to have a re­ally good un­der­stand­ing of what their goals are, and what the goal of the med­i­cal team is. Then we look at what kind of mu­si­cal in­ter­ven­tions can best sup­port those goals.” Many new to mu­sic ther­apy ask “Why mu­sic?” “It’s be­cause mu­sic picks up where words leave off,” says Isaac, a Capi­lano Univer­sity grad who also stud­ied neona­tal-in­ten­stive-care-unit mu­sic ther­apy and neu­ro­log­i­cal mu­sic ther­apy in the States. “Of­ten in a place of trau­matic in­jury like in a burn unit, phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals alone can­not ac­cess ef­fi­cient pain man­age­ment. Live mu­sic es­pe­cially is kines­thetic—so the sound and tone of my voice are used to sup­port the pa­tient. Al­ways us­ing pa­tient-pre­ferred mu­sic, it’s a dis­trac­tion from pain.”

MU­SIC THER­APY ISN’T COV­ERED un­der pro­vin­cial health care. Money raised by Mu­sic Heals pays for ther­apy ses­sions, with the caveat that a fa­cil­ity or or­ga­ni­za­tion must al­ready be us­ing mu­sic ther­a­pists. Fundrais­ing takes place in cities across Canada, with all rev­enue gen­er­ated in a par­tic­u­lar com­mu­nity stay­ing in that com­mu­nity.

“Van­cou­ver is lucky be­cause the top mu­sic­ther­apy pro­gram in Canada is at Cap U,” Brandt says. “So there’s no short­age of mu­sic ther­a­pists in the Lower Main­land. But of all the mu­sic ther­a­pists in B.C., I only know of one who is work­ing full-time at one fa­cil­ity. They might have a cou­ple of part-times that they add to­gether to make a full-time sched­ule. [B.C.] Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal doesn’t have a full-time ther­a­pist, VGH [Van­cou­ver Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal] doesn’t have one.”

Mu­sic Heals hosts a num­ber of fundrais­ing events per year, in­clud­ing an an­nual Strike a Chord gala that will take place at the Com­modore this year on Oc­to­ber 19. While the lineup will re­main a se­cret un­til show­time, past edi­tions have fea­tured the likes of Jim Byrnes teamed with the Har­poon­ist & the Axe Mur­derer and Dan Man­gan per­form­ing with a 60-per­son kids’ choir. Speeches and video pre­sen­ta­tions will ex­plain how mu­sic ther­apy works and how to get in­volved with fund­ing.

“We’ve sold out the Im­pe­rial the last three years, so it was time to take it to the next level,” Bar­nett says. “As Mu­sic Heals evolves, I think we ul­ti­mately want to cre­ate some big fundrais­ing event in each city so we can keep the money in each of those cities. The more artists and bands and big pro­mot­ers like Live Na­tion that we can get into the room, the more that we’ll be able to build this thing.”

Sup­port from the pri­vate sec­tor has also been in­valu­able. Mu­sic Heals holds events like an an­nual ipod Phar­macy drive, where peo­ple do­nate old de­vices that are then dis­trib­uted to ther­a­pists.

“We look for cre­ative ways to get peo­ple in­volved,” Brandt says. “March is Mu­sic Ther­apy Aware­ness month. The first Saturday in March we do a night out for Mu­sic Heals. This year we had 70 bars in 30 cities across Canada give us one dol­lar from their cover charge. The mes­sage was ‘You’re going out on a Saturday, and you want to sup­port mu­sic ther­apy—go to one of these bars.’”

Both Bar­nett and Brandt hope to get Mu­sic Heals to the point where it’s giv­ing away a mil­lion dol­lars per year for ther­apy ses­sions.

“We fund hours,” Brandt says sim­ply. “That’s ex­clu­sively what we fund—mu­sic-ther­apy hours— partly be­cause no one else does. Most char­i­ties in Canada that are mu­sic-re­lated are mu­sic ed­u­ca­tion. Half of our man­date is aware­ness. If you go into a hos­pi­tal with us and we all brought gui­tars in, it’s en­ter­tain­ment. It’s not mu­sic ther­apy. This is dif­fer­ent. It’s health care.”

And if those hours prove any­thing, it’s that mu­sic is a pow­er­ful thing.

“We know we can’t get a thou­sand peo­ple into a hos­pi­tal to show them mu­sic ther­apy work­ing,” Bar­nett says. “That’s why we have the gala, and why we put videos on. The more peo­ple see how it’s be­ing used in all dif­fer­ent spec­trums, the more they un­der­stand. You’ll get a child with a birth de­fect in the hos­pi­tal where their heart rate is not where it needs to be, and mu­sic gets them back on track. We’ve met so many peo­ple with re­ally heavy sto­ries where mu­sic ther­apy has helped, whether it’s autism, pal­lia­tive care in a se­niors’ cen­tre, or heart-and-stroke pa­tients. The great thing is that more and more peo­ple are be­liev­ing.”

Strike a Chord takes place at the Com­modore next Thursday (Oc­to­ber 19). For more in­for­ma­tion on Mu­sic Heals, visit mu­

Mu­sic Heals has given away close to a mil­lion dol­lars since Chris Brandt and David Bar­nett started the char­ity five years ago. Amanda Siebert photo.

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