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Ormond Beach Observer Friday, Feb. 19, 2021 8 months ago

The power of music: Bethune-Cookman to expand its 'Music and Medicine' symposium thanks to grant

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The project will be targeted at helping frontline workers with a holistic approach to deal with mental health, stress and physical wellness.
by: Jarleene Almenas Associate Editor

For a team at Bethune-Cookman University, music and wellness have never been more in harmony. 

Thanks to a $39,500 grant from the Pabst Steinmetz Foundation, the La-Doris McClaney School of Performing Arts and Communication of BCU's Department of Music is planning to implement a training model to increase health and wellness in targeted sectors of the community through the integration of music with Eastern and Western medicine. It's an effort led by Dr. Rose Grace, Dr. Daniel Hollar and Dr. Diana Lee that grew out of the school's annual "Music and Medicine" symposium, which is now in its third year. 

Brittni Cleland, certified dance and movement therapist and mental health clinician, leads a workshop during the second "Music and Medicine" Symposium

The symposium focused on helping musicians deal with the stresses of their profession, both and physical and mental in nature. But in the face of the ongoing pandemic, Grace said they recognized that these coping mechanisms presented to their students and fellow music educators could benefit health care workers and other frontline workers, including classroom teachers. There couldn't have been an urgent time where their symposium model could be more applicable, she explained. 

Thanks to a $39,500 grant from the Pabst SteinMetz Foundation, established in 2018, BCU is hoping to expand its music and wellness training model to help other populations in the community. Courtesy photo

“The goal really is to introduce, educate, but most importantly improve everybody’s health wellness in both their professional as well as personal lives," said Grace, an associate professor of piano at BCU. She has also served as the founder and director of the BCU music outreach program during the past 12 years.

Grace, of Ormond Beach, first became aware of the Pabst Steinmetz Foundation last year during a conference on arts and wellness programs. At the time, she and her team were planning their second symposium after having received positive feedback from the inaugural event. Little did she know that this year's symposium would be virtual, to be livestreamed on Facebook and YouTube from 8:45 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 20. This year's theme is "Fighting the COVID Fatigue."

Dr. Rose Grace, said she is grateful that the Pabst Steinmetz Foundation awarded them grant. Courtesy photo

Thanks to the foundation's grant, BCU will be able to expand this training model, made up of workshops featuring clinicians such as chiropractors, musicians, audiologists and tai-chi instructors. They hope to hold a series of comprehensive training workshops throughout the year focusing on holistic approaches to mental health support, stress reduction and efficient body usage, according to a press release. 

“I really do think we are going to truly revolutionize, I hope, the lives and the state of wellness of our individuals here in this immediate community and I certainly hope within Florida and hoping beyond that," Grace said.

Seeing it in action

The combination of music and healing struck a chord with Grace seven years ago. 

At the time, Grace, who is a pianist, had been diagnosed with a lung infection. The aftermath of the intense treatment left her in a state where she couldn't play, and she said her cognitive abilities were weakened. But through acupuncture and tai chi, Grace was able to begin playing again. 

She started to apply the same concepts of eastern medicine with teaching. 

During one exercise, she asked vocal students to sing before and after completing a tai chi routine. The difference was "astounding," Grace said. One student she interviewed afterward said she felt she had better control of her breath and was more focused on her vocals.  

“If I didn’t actually experience it for myself and somebody told me about it, I would have told them, ‘OK, stop telling me those fairy tales,’" Grace said. "But I felt that powerful impact of it, so when I was hearing our students in some sense relating the same thing, where they felt an instantaneous improvement and freedom, and focus… it was empowering and thrilling for me to hear — that [Lee] and I could bring something so beneficial to our students, to our campus and beyond that to the community.”

A team effort

The power of the training model lies in bridging medicine, arts and sciences together, a press release states. As one of six grant recipients, and the only university awardee among nonprofit organizations, collaboration between the three team members is essential. 

Dr. Hollar, an assistant professor of psychology at BCU. Courtesy photo

Hollar, an assistant professor of psychology at BCU who also serves as the Department Chair of Behavior and Social Sciences Studies, earned his doctorate degree from Florida State University with research interests focusing on suicide, eating disordered behavior and ethnicity among individuals of African descent. He is the project's co-prime investigator alongside Grace. 

Lee, of Ormond Beach, is the project's external collaborator, and is the former director of the Odessa Chambliss Center for Health Equity at BCU. During the past three years, she has worked alongside Grace to bring the symposiums to the community. 

Grace said she is eternally grateful for her enthusiasm and dedication to the project.

Dr. Diana Lee has worked alongside Grace in the past three years to bring the music symposiums to the community. Courtesy photo

“I don’t think I would have been able to do this as well if I didn’t have her wonderful support and collaboration," she said.

The project will launch within the Central Florida communities, with the hopes of expanding it across the U.S. in the future.

“The sky’s the limit," Grace said. "So we’ll see.”

To learn more about the Pabst Steinmetz Foundation, visit pabststeinmetzfoundation.org

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