Lisa: Each week on the Dr. Lisa Radio Hour and Podcast, we go forth out into the airwaves and hope that we are indeed ourselves healing with sound.
I thought it’d be interesting to bring in somebody who officially heals with sound. We like to think of ourselves as healing with sound, but we know that Kate Beever is a healer. She is a board certified music therapist with a master’s in music therapy.
Kate, thanks for coming in today.
Kate: Yes, thanks for having me.
Lisa: Kate, this is a really interesting topic for us. We’ve had musicians on the show before. Of course, John McCain, we call him our audio guru, he’s a musician himself. I sing, I feel very strongly about music. You must too.
Kate: I do, very much.
Lisa: How did you come to be a music therapist?
Kate: Oh boy, well I started playing piano when I was in 3rd grade and then switched to classical percussion. I learned drum set, timpani, and mallet percussion. Then I started teaching lessons when I was in junior high and high school to students with disabilities, either with sight issues or developmental disabilities.
I realized that I had kind of a gift for teaching music to people who learned in a different way, so I wrote a research paper on that in 8th grade and found out that was actually a field of music therapy. It wasn’t just teaching music, it was healing through music.
I’ve been interested in it since I was a kid.
Lisa: Classical percussion, I didn’t even realize that was a thing.
Kate: It is. I’ve played with a lot of orchestras, I still sort of sit in with the Bates orchestra sometimes up in Lewiston. I do some world percussion as well. I play some solo percussion on marimba, vibraphone, and stuff.
Lisa: What was it about percussion that drew you in?
Kate: This is a good topic because I’ve noticed that everyone sort of has their thing about music that they really like, and mine is rhythm, so I’m very drawn to rhythms of all kinds.
I’m one of those people who … I can hear the rhythm everywhere I go, so when you’re walking, when you’re breathing, or when you’re around in the city hearing all these noises. It’s all kind of rhythmic, which sounds like music to me.
I was always really drawn to it. I never used to be much of a singer, I am now, but at the time I wasn’t a singer I thought, “Well I’ll play the drums, then I won’t have to sing.”
Lisa: You sort of backed into a little bit.
Kate: Yeah, exactly.
Lisa: Wait a minute, so you didn’t used to be a singer, but you are now. How did that transformation occur?
Kate: I did sing in high school. I sang in chamber singers in chorus, but never as a solo singer. I realized that I was going to need to do that if I was going to be working with people and trying to get them to sing.
I also realized how good it is for you to sing. It’s good for your lungs, good for your breathing, and just makes you feel better in general. I figured if I was going to be telling people that I should embody it myself, so I started singing more.
Lisa: It sounds like there are different ways in which music can heal, and I know we probably could spend days and days talking about this.
Describe some of them.
Kate: I guess it depends on who you’re working with. I’ve seen a lot of music therapists working with different populations.
A big one right now is children with autism because I think the recent number that came out is one in 88 children are diagnosed with autism, so everyone’s trying to find ways to help them integrate into classrooms and connect with other children and be able to express themselves, and music is a really powerful way to do that.
I’ve seen a lot of people working with kids with autism. Some of the stuff I’ve done. I worked in the neonatal ICU for awhile, and that was a way to help moms connect with their child through singing since they weren’t able to touch them yet.
Lisa: Will you teach people how to play and sing? Or do you play and sing for them?
Kate: It’s a little bit of both, and it’s not necessarily teaching them, but it’s allowing them to realize that they already have that skill. It’s more of a facilitation. I’ll try to facilitate that person to be able to sing or play the piano along with me.
I do it in such a way that’s easy for them, so it’s not really a lesson and they don’t have to build all these musical skills, that we as musicians have built up for a long time. It’s just so that they can immediately do it and feel gratified by it.
Lisa: Do you think that that’s potentially one of the barriers to healing with sound is that people think that they have to be a quote unquote “singer” or they have to play piano?
Kate: Absolutely. I think that’s one reason that it’s important to have a music therapist or someone there to help facilitate that because I’ve run into that a lot when I was working in a hospital setting. I would go into a room and say, “I’m a music therapist. Would you like some music today?”
Many people, especially older people who’ve never tried it, were really apprehensive. They would say, “Oh, I can’t do that. I’m not a good singer.” Or “I’ve never played piano, I never took lessons.” Or “I quit that when I was a kid.”
It’s our job to say, “Okay, that’s fine.” Then get them comfortable enough to at least try it and then facilitate the music so that they say, “Oh, I can do this. It sounds really good.”
Lisa: There’s a little bit of a marketing aspect to what you do.
Kate: There’s a huge marketing aspect.
Lisa: Especially with children with autism I would think because you can’t necessarily … Not every child with autism is going to know that they would like to do music therapy.
Kate: It’s amazing actually, the amount of children … Actually I don’t think I’ve ever seen a kid say no to music. As soon as you start playing it, start playing a drum, or singing, they’re immediately apart of that and recognize.
One thing you can do with children with autism actually is some of them are just sort of vocalizing on their own, they might be making sounds. As a music therapist I would just match those sounds and all of a sudden the kid notices that you’re matching what he’s doing and you build a relationship with him. Then you can turn that into music on its own.
Lisa: Even people who don’t consider themselves musical will revert when they’re not thinking unconsciously to humming or whisting or making sound or singing in the shower. I know that many people use singing with stammers. What happens with music in the brain?
Kate: When you’re speaking actually, you’re only using part of your brain. Some people say half your brain, it’s not necessarily half, it’s just specific parts, but when you’re singing you’re using more of your brain.
Once you start singing instead of speaking, it starts firing off up there and making more connections and all of a sudden you’re singing things that you wanted to be able to speak.
That’s another thing you can do working with people who have brain injuries. You can help them figure out what they want to say and put it to music, so they’re singing it. Then you start taking that melody away and they’ll eventually be speaking it.
It’s a good way to help people learn how to speak.
Exactly, with people who have a stuttering problem, it can help a lot too.
Lisa: I noticed that you interned at Beth Israel’s Louis Armstrong Center for Music and Medicine. This just struck me as interesting that you have the medicine and then you have Louis Armstrong, the trumpet player with the giant cheeks. That seems very forward-thinking on their part.
Kate: I think Louis Armstrong noticed how important music was to people, and even non-musicians, and wanted to do something about that, so he founded that part of the hospital and now it’s a major part of the hospital.
Which I noticed is, in most of the places in New York, music therapy is actually a huge part of health care. I think that’s really important. There’s a lot of research coming out of that place especially.
We were doing research studies on music COPD and asthma, so we would use recorders, flutes, or singing to help people improve their breathing which, I think you’d probably know as a singer, breathing is a really big part of that, so it’s really helpful.
The same thing at Sloan-Kettering where I was there was a lot of research happening and it was an integrated part of the hospital. They’d go to the rounds and talk about all the patients with the doctors and get referrals. It was a really exciting place to be.
Lisa: You’ve brought this to Maine.
Kate: Trying, yes.
Lisa: Your company is called?
Kate: Maine Music & Health. That was one of my goals actually. I’m from Maine, so I love it here naturally, but I also would really like to see music therapy grow here. Right now I think there’s only five or six of us spread throughout the state, which is a pretty small representation … compared to other states I guess.
It’s amazing the places that I’ve gone and done some music therapy sessions. How quickly it’s grown, because people immediately notice, “Wow this really works. It’s really powerful.”
It’s helping people achieve their non-musical goals faster than without music, so that’s a nice thing to see. It’s just kind of a slower process I guess.
Lisa: Kate, I know that you are a percussionist, so of course you deal a lot with rhythm. There’s also melody and harmony, and these things do different things with regard to healing. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Kate: I talked a little bit about rhythm already. I really believe that rhythm is inherent in everyone. Not necessarily specific rhythms, like not everyone can play some polyrhythm on a snare drum, but just the way that you move and the way that you speak, you have a rhythm to yourself. Other people have that too.
I think that’s how I connect with someone when I first start working with them is through rhythm. Especially being a percussionist, it’s pretty easy for me to take out a percussion instrument and share that with somebody.
Melody, I think, is the most important thing for the general public because that’s what people have in their minds all the time. Songs you hear on the radio, or songs that you remember from when you were a little kid, you’re going to remember the melody. You’re not really going to remember what chords were played behind it or what the drummer sounded like, but you’ll remember the song.
You see that a lot working with people who lost parts of their memory. Adults with dementia and Alzheimer’s might not remember anything, then you’ll mention a song and they’ll remember the entire melody to that song. That’s kind of a magical thing. I think that’s why melody’s important.
Then the harmony aspect of it is just what really drives the emotion of music. You might be singing a melody with somebody, and they’ll maybe smiling or saying, “Oh that was my wedding song.”
Once you add the harmonic instrument to that, a piano, or guitar, or even a group of people singing together, that’s what really makes that person start feeling the emotion of that song. That’s what brings out the counseling side of it.
When someone says, “Oh, that’s my wedding song,” but then they also start crying and say, “I really miss my husband who passed away a few years ago.” We start a discussion just out of playing that song together.
Lisa: Music seems to also bring people together. I mean, Louis Armstrong, he was a trumpeter, “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Do you think that there is a healing that music can do on a larger scale?
I think the sense of community that grows with people playing music together, listening to music together, or talking about it is just so important for anyone, especially people who are doing some kind of healing, whether it’s emotional, physical, or cognitive.
To do that as a group just makes it that much more powerful. They see other people benefiting from it, they’re sharing it, and they’re talking about it. It just makes it happen even faster.
Lisa: If a group of different people are listening to the same piece, does it cause them to sort of resonate?
Kate: It depends. There’s a really amazing thing, if you get a group of people singing together, they really are feeling each other’s vibrations and it’s a really powerful thing that doesn’t happen very often.
Especially if you get people harmonizing with each other, I don’t know if you ever experienced that, but you’ll hear all the overtones and it’s almost like you’ve created this musical cloud that’s above everyone’s head. It’s a really powerful thing for people to experience.
Lisa: What did you notice when you … You said that you started this process back in high school. You went to high school here in Maine?
Kate: I did, in Gorham.
Lisa: In Gorham. Actually they have a very strong music program for some reason out in Gorham and the University of Southern Maine at Gorham.
What did you notice when you started teaching, even back then?
Kate: I think it’s actually one specific person that I worked with that really changed my mind about what music was. When I was younger I was really focused on learning the specific note, the perfect way to play things, and performance. I still love that aspect of music, I love to perform.
But I was working with a young teenager. Actually, I think he was about nine when I started working with him. He had cerebral palsy, and so half of his body … he couldn’t actually move.
I think he was in a wheelchair when I started with him and his arm was in a cast that was held to his side, and he also had autism so he wasn’t able to really communicate very well with people. He didn’t speak, he just made some noises.
He really liked the drums. His parents had noticed that he got really excited when the drummers would start playing at any kind of concert, so they wanted me to teach him drum set. We started working at the drum set and I just based the lessons off of what he could do and started working with the right side of his body.
Then I would hand-over-hand work with the left side of his body and get him to play. I think it was just so motivating for him to hear the music he was creating that he began to do it on his own. That eventually transferred into his home life where he was able to walk up the stairs with both feet and he was able to do things with both his hands.
It was just a huge improvement and I saw the way that affected his family and him. It was just a really powerful moment for me, and I realized, “Wow, music did this. It’s not me, it’s not him, it’s the music that we’re doing together.” That changed my mind about everything.
Lisa: You’ve talked about autism. You’ve talked about cerebral palsy. What other things can you help?
Kate: People with traumatic brain injury can be helped by music in really specific ways, so you might try to help them walk again or get range of motion back by using instruments. You might hold an instrument out to the left and have them reach across their midline. You can also help them relearn how to speak, I think I mentioned that before.
It can help with cancer patients, or really anyone who’s been in the hospital for a length of time. It can help emotionally and it can help families reconnect.
I’ve also done a lot of end of life care, so that’s kind of a different thing, but the ways that that can help … you can work with the family to write some music, or choose some music that you want to play at the end of the life or at the funeral.
I’ve also worked with people who knew that they were going to pass away and they would create music as a legacy to give to their family.
There are a lot of really powerful ways. I honestly believe you can use music with anything, it’s going to affect everybody differently. There’s no specific music that works for one thing, it’s just what that individual needs at any given moment. It’s just a way to meet their goals.
Lisa: Can you speak a little bit to the emotional side of music? For many people listening, I would think all American teenagers right now, music becomes a powerful way to almost get through adolescence. Sometimes it’s very threatening to their parents, sometimes it’s not, because music affects mood.
How does that work? If you’re in the mood for a sad song, does that mean you should listen to a sad song?
Kate: That’s the big question I guess. I think that you can, I think it’s a good way to let that emotion out in a really safe space, especially with teenagers, it’s a really safe way to express what you’re feeling without hurting anyone or without offending anyone because it’s just music and everybody likes music.
I think you mentioned the scary thing that teenagers listen to that might be offensive to people. I think what it is there is the power that comes from that kind of music. Specifically I’m thinking hard rock, rap genre. I think it’s just an outlet.
As far as feeling sad and wanting to listen to sad music, I think that’s okay because you want to feel sad. You want to feel that and then let it go, and music is a good way to do that because music always has a beginning and an end, so you can feel that sad, then it ends and you can move on.
As music therapists, we use something called entrainment, which is when you match someone’s mood, someone’s energy level, or someone’s body rhythms with music. Then you can bring that up or you can bring that down depending on what they need. We’ve used that a lot.
You can actually see it in people in a coma. If you’re playing music for them and you’re watching the chart above their bed in the hospital, you can match the heart rate or the breathing rate, then you can speed the music up or you can slow it down and you’ll actually see their breathing or heart rate speed up or slow down.
Genevieve: That’s incredible.
Lisa: Have you needed to use music to heal any aspect of your life?
Kate: All the time I guess. I think that’s one thing that’s drawn me to it. I’ve always used music for myself. I can’t remember if I went through angsty rap phase in high school, but I’ve always chosen music that’s really meaningful to me.
That’s an exercise we did in grad school actually, we wrote our musical biography. We chose songs that represented who we were at different points in our life. That was kind of a good experience to see what music means to me as well. It really means a lot. It sort of represents everything I’ve gone through.
Lisa: Why come back to Maine?
Kate: Well, many reasons. One is that I just love Maine, it’s a beautiful place. I’m really into biking and swimming, being near the ocean, and the fresh air. My family is still in Maine, a lot of them live in Gorham still, so that was part of the reason.
This career is really important to me and I really think that people in Maine could benefit from having music therapy and I want to see it grow here.
It was a tough decision because I was in New York with such a big support system, and being part of these hospitals that were doing a lot of music therapy work, it would have been easy to stay there and be a part of that, but I’d like to see that same thing happen here. That was the main reason I came back.
Lisa: You described New York and you described Maine. You have said that you have always had a sense … you can listen to what’s going on around you and there’s a rhythm to everything.
Can you describe the difference between the music of Maine and music of New York?
Kate: I can. That’s a good question as far as what I listen to because my iPod is a good representation of that. What was on my playlist when I was in New York is very different from what was in Maine.
One example is that I really like bluegrass, I grew up with bluegrass music, and when I was in New York, I was listening to bluegrass music that was really upbeat and fast-paced, which is sort of what I feel when I’m there.
You’re walking, and you’re immediately walking at a faster pace in Manhattan. There’s so many people around with so many different languages and different things to look at. It’s sort of a bunch of polyrhythms at the same time, I guess is how I would describe it.
Then coming back to Maine it just slowed down a little. I feel like my own breathing has slowed down, the music list I listen to has slowed down a little bit. I think that the rhythms in Maine more of the ocean rhythm, just sort of a calm wave, and then running on dirt roads basically.
Lisa: So you have more balance on your iPod now.
Kate: Exactly, I think so. You know, I love fast-paced things, I loved being in New York, but I think it’s good to have that balance. Be able to do both.
Lisa: Is there a music associated with silence?
Kate: Well, John Cage might say yes. That’s a good question. I actually use silence a lot and I think it’s a really important part of music. Even music that you wouldn’t say, “Oh, there’s a lot of silence in that.” Just pauses in music and time to take a breath. All of that is very important and I think just having some silence can be really good too.
Lisa: How can people find out more about Maine Music & Health? I know you have an event coming up.
Kate: They can go to my website, MaineMusicandHealth.com, or email me at [email protected]
I’ve been working with this amazing music school in Yarmouth called 317 Main Street. I think they’ll be speaking a little bit later, but we’re going to do some events together. We’re doing a group at the cancer community center in a few weeks.
I am speaking at the American Cancer Society Conference which is in the beginning of May. There’s a few events coming up actually which are really exciting.
Lisa: You’ll put those on your website.
Kate: They are, yup.
Lisa: Do you have a Facebook page?
Kate: I do have a Facebook page. I think it’s just Maine Music & Health.
Lisa: Well Kate, it’s been so interesting. I have so many questions I could keep asking you, but thank you so much for bringing this back to the state of Maine.
Kate: Thanks for having me.
Lisa: It’s a really valuable service that you’re offering and thanks for coming in.
Kate: Thank you.