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Vinfen’s Day Habilitation Program Exemplifies the Healing Art of Music

DSC_0406 smallAt Vinfen’s Community Support Services Day Habilitation (CSSDH) program, music reigns supreme as both a therapeutic tool and an opportunity for self-expression and fun. Each week, program members break out boxes of instruments, piles of sheet music, and their best singing voices for an hour-long therapy session allowing them to develop skills and achieve goals so that they may attain the highest possible level of independence, and have a great time to boot.

Music therapy has been utilized at CSSDH nearly as long as the program itself has existed. Groups are led by Development Specialist Andrew Kissock, a Vinfen veteran with over a decade of experience at CSSDH under his belt.

“[The music program] is essential,” Andrew says. “Cognitive skills, fine motor skills, gross motor skills- If the music’s kicking, they’re shaking the bells or playing the bongos or tambourine, and it’s fantastic. They’re using muscles that they don’t use on a daily basis. The group is singing songs that they probably haven’t heard in 20 years, which they grew up with, and they can still recall.”

True to form, the eight members of the CSSDH “B group” are bright-eyed and energetic when they join Andrew in the music room on Friday afternoon. Kenny, a 73-year-old program member, is the first to take his seat, and immediately volunteers to sing. His enthusiastic request for “Take Me Home, Country Roads” turns out to be a group favorite, as even the nonverbal individuals sing along with smiles on their faces.

To Andrew, these first moments represent the most rewarding part of the music therapy program.

“You see someone who would normally not verbalize, who otherwise is pretty much nonverbal, but when I’m playing a song, they’ll fill in words to the lyrics. To me, that’s pretty significant.”

Nick exemplifies Andrew’s point by picking up the microphone to lead the class in another song. Though Nick is normally nonverbal, he doesn’t hesitate to follow Andrew’s lead in repeating lyrics and emulating his rhythm and tune.

DSC_0365 smallAnd Nick is not the only individual for whom growth is visible within a single session. Marsha, who had been sitting quietly watching the class unfold, takes Andrew up on his offer to “jam.” He hands her the mike, takes the seat next to her, and begins to strum out a blues progression on his guitar. Marsha’s transformation is immediate. From her posture to her expression, Marsha’s alertness and excitement are clear, and in stark contrast to her disposition at the start of the session. She belts out a string of “Yeah!”s and “Hey!”s, with a wide smile on her face. And at the end of her performance, she’s rewarded with a round of applause by her fellow program members and staff.

“Each individual is their own person, so I cater to each person,” Andrew later says, explaining why Marsha chose to sing from her seat rather than venturing to the front of the room. “I know what they want and what they don’t want. I know what they can do. The majority of the people have been here a very long time, and I’ve been here with them.”

Not every member of “B group” chooses to lead a song during the session, but their attentiveness and enjoyment is evident from the moment Andrew picks up his guitar. Emily, one of the youngest in the program, follows along with hand motions and bouts of giggles as they pick up another tune. Next to her, a more reserved member pats out the beat on a tambourine.

DSC_0355 smallLeon, however, is not one of the few who suffer from stage fright. Andrew punctuates Leon’s heartfelt rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” with a fist-pump to the air, to which Leon laughs and remarks, “You’re funny, Andy.” For Leon and his group members, the opportunity to utilize and expand upon his social and communication skills is a natural byproduct of the musical therapy session.

“At Vinfen, we’ve found music to be an integral part of recovery and habilitation for many of the people we serve,” says Vinfen President and CEO Bruce Bird. “That’s why we encourage and enable our programs to integrate music into their supports. And that’s why we’ve partnered with the Longwood Symphony Orchestra for the past two years, and will again this May, to put on a concert celebrating the Healing Art of Music.”

This year’s Healing Art of Music concert, presented by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, will take place on May 7 at New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall. To support programs like CSSDH, or to purchase tickets to this wonderful event, visit us at www.vinfen.org/healing.