Lpera singer brings ther­apy to oth­ers with mu­sic

The Willow Grove Guide - - OPINION - By Jar­reau Free­man

jfree­man@mont­gomerynews.com French nov­el­ist sic­tor eugo once said that “mu­sic ex­presses that which can­not be put into words and that which can­not re­main silent.” eugo seems to al­lude to mu­sic’s ther­a­peu­tic power to com­mu­ni­cate the hu­man emo­tion in ways that talk­ing or other forms of com­mu­ni­ca­tion can’t.

iike eugo, lo­cal mu­sic ther­a­pist and former opera singer Elizabeth Cook un­der­stands the re­vi­tal­iz­ing power of mu­sic and has ded­i­cated her life to bring­ing it to oth­ers through per­for­mance and teach­ing.

A res­i­dent in the Wyn­cote sec­tion of Chel­tenham Town­ship, Cook re­cently launched Gath­er­ing Drum.com, a mu­sic com­mu­nity and mu­sic well­ness re­source that seeks to “im­prove the qual­ity of life for in­di­vid­u­als of all abil­i­ties and back­grounds through safe, suc­cess­ful and sat­is­fy­ing mu­si­cal ex­pe­ri­ences.”

Prior to be­com­ing a mu­sic ther­a­pist, mu­sic was Cook’s ther­apy. For 12 years she worked as an ac­com­plished opera singer who re­ceived many ac­co­lades for her tal­ent and per­formed on renowned stages such as Carnegie eall.

Grow­ing up, Cook said, she dreamed of be­ing a back­ground singer in a rock band, but her voice had other plans.

“My voice teacher said that I had an op­er­atic voice,” she said in an in­ter­view. “At 1R years old I started singing opera … I loved it.”

From the be­gin­ning of her opera ca­reer, Cook said she felt at home on the op­er­atic stage, which she said was ther­a­peu­tic.

“I have a very dra­matic per­son­al­ity and the op- eratic stage needs the big­ness of emo­tion,” she said. “xOpera saidz I need more of you, not tone it down. I found a chan­nel to ex­press my­self. I loved the mu­sic.”

Af­ter a suc­cess­ful opera ca­reer, Cook opened pi­ano and voice stu­dios, where she taught mu­sic to peo­ple of all ages and lev­els. One day, she was asked to teach a lit­tle boy with autism.

“We would sit side by side, not talk­ing with each other, and fo­cus on the pi­ano,” she said. “The con­sis­tent pat­terns of the black and white keys are a nat­u­ral ap­peal to the autis­tic mind. The de­fi­cien­cies in autism be­came his mu­si­cal strengths.”

From that ex­pe­ri­ence, Cook went on to pur­sue a master’s de­gree in mu­sic ther­apy to ac­quire the tools to help those with dis­abil­i­ties find a con­nec­tion to mu­sic.

“Once they dis­cover they can par­tic­i­pate in mu­sic, it be­comes a part of their life and some­thing they are proud of and are good at,” Cook said.

Cook also works with chil­dren with Asperger’s, ADeD and other spe­cial needs. When work­ing with chil­dren with spe­cial needs, Cook said she uses mu­sic to help them im­prove their so­cial skills, fol­low in­struc­tions and build con­fi­dence.

Cook said her stu­dents will work to over­come ob­sta­cles they strug­gle with in or­der to touch the drum or gui­tar dur­ing their les­son.

“Mu­sic ther­apy has been suc­cess­ful xfor those with spe­cial needsz be­cause they en­joy it,” she said.

In ad­di­tion, The Gath­er­ing Drum pro­vides a va­ri­ety of mu­si­cal ser­vices for chil­dren, teens and adults. Cook of­fers the pop­u­lar early child­hood partLchild mu­sic pro­gram Mu­sic To­gether, classes for those liv­ing with de­men­tia and Alzheimer’s and classes for women who are preg­nant.

“Be­ing preg­nant is a very stress­ful ex­pe­ri­ence for the body and is emo­tion­ally stress­ful too,” Cook said.

If a mother is stressed, her baby could ex­pe­ri­ence higher lev­els of anx­i­ety once it’s born, as a re­sult of hor­mones that passed from the mother to the baby in the third trimester, she said.

Mu­sic ther­apy dur­ing preg­nancy is about man­ag­ing stress for the best fe­tal health. “Women who are stressed and anx­ious dur­ing preg­nancy have a higher risk of pre­ma­ture la­bor,” she said.

Ther­apy teaches moth­ers how to soothe the baby through lul­la­bies and gives moth­ers the op­por­tu­nity to con­nect with each other, she said.

For those who want to be the next Amer­i­can Idol or per­form in a rock band, The Gath­er­ing Drum also pro­vides voice, pi­ano and gui­tar lessons.

Cook said feel­ing safe and re­laxed dur­ing mu­sic classes is im­por­tant. That’s why many of the classes are held in her home or in the homes of her clients.

“At­mos­phere is cru­cial,” she said. “eold­ing classes in a home can cause less anx­i­ety be­cause it’s not in an in­sti­tu­tion­al­ized space. The classes are con­structed based on the client’s needs.”

Cook said she wanted to cre­ate Gath­er­ing Drum.com as a place to hone in her abil­i­ties as a per­former, teacher and ther­a­pist, but also as a way to in­form and ed­u­cate peo­ple about mu­sic ther­apy.

“Once you join The Gath­er­ing Drum … you join the mu­sic com­mu­nity,” she said.

To learn more about The Gath­er­ing Drum visit www.gath­er­ing­drum.com.

Mont­gomery Me­dia staff photo / JAR­REAU FREE­MAN

Par­ents and their chil­dren en­joy singing and danc­ing dur­ing a Mu­sic To­gether class.

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