Tuesday, May 25, 2010

MusickEd Plays Role in MS Patients' Recovery

One friend, true friend
Always by my side
And I know that I can count on you
Days pass, we'll change, maybe move apart
But I hope that we'll keep talking
Sharing stories
Old friends for a long, long time

The words seem simple enough. The melody uses mostly small intervals, includes loud and soft sections and is only 20 measures long. So how did it come about that a Multiple Sclerosis support group sang this song at a recent meeting? Enter Toni Vogel.

Toni was diagnosed with MS in April of 2007 but she chooses to 'live' with the disease as best she can. After an initial loss of vision in one eye (which has since returned to 'normal' with steroid therapy) she continues to battle pain in her legs, hips, shoulders and neck as well as overall fatigue throughout an average day. The nighttime often brings restlessness to the point of waking up tired, yet her spirit remains undaunted.

Toni loves music and always wanted to learn bass guitar. She found The Dallas School of Music and started taking sessions with Dr. Bob Lawrence. Bob explained the schools' enrollment plans, the MusickEd curriculum and before long Toni was thumping away in time, reading notes, counting rests, playing melodies and learning musical concepts on her instrument. Toni embraced the challenge, enjoyed the learning process and made swift progress. She encouraged her husband Steve (a self-taught guitarist) to enroll and work through the curriculum as well.

Toni's new-f
ound attitude and enthusiasm was apparent to everyone who knew her. Steve noticed that she seemed to have been in a "year long funk", sometimes depressed and often "not feeling up to even getting out of the house". But playing the bass and learning music gave her strength and it wasn't long until she was excited to get to her lesson each week.

"I feel like the connections in my brain are being re-wired",
Toni says "and Steve as well as many of my friends in the support group have noticed too."

Steve does not suffer from MS but often attends meetings to support Toni and has learned much about the disease since her diagnoses. "The good news is that the brain and body are capable of repair" he says. "That's what makes music so great. It is paramount in the re-wiring process. Movement is also important for MS patients and music is a great motivator for that too."

Toni asked for the words to the songs she was learning so that she could sing them in the car. Since the curriculum is designed for all instruments (including voice), the lyrics were already in place. She downloaded the mp3 files to her iPod and began to sing the melodies as part of her daily routine.

Mike Finkel composes most of the songs, creates the orchestrations, does all of the recording and even writes many of the words for MusickEd.com. He describes the style of this particular tune as 'world music'. Steel drums, multiple cymbals, bongos and other percussion instruments can be heard on its more than 25 tracks. The style and interesting groove is what caught Toni's attention at first, but the words
really hit home.

"It's what it's all about," Toni says, "making connections with new friends
and sharing our stories."

Toni recently invited MusickEd Partners Bob Lawrence and Eugene Cantera to visit her group's Make Your Mark Day which occurs on the first Tuesday of every month.

"I didn't know what to expect" Eugene said, "but the room was decorated with music symbols and bright colors. There was a toddler laughing and playing on the floor and everyone was smiling and anxious to hear Toni perform and tell her story."

Toni spoke passionately about her experiences with MS and how music has helped her cope. She played a few songs from the MusickEd curriculum and then accompanied by Steve on guitar, performed a moving rendition of 'Dust in the Wind.' Lots of toe tapping and rousing applause ensued, but perhaps the most amazing moment came toward the end of the meeting.

"Toni had taught the 'Friend' song to her support group earlier that day and they sang it for us" said Cantera. "It's amazing to think that something we've had a hand in creating could be shared and used this way. My mind raced with the possibility of having an entire online community specifically for MS patients, telling their stories and encouraging each other as they learn music. It will be interesting to see where this all leads but if it never goes any further, it's already been quite amazing."

feels so strongly about her musical experience that she is spearheading an effort to have the MusickEd curriculum and/or sessions at The Dallas School of Music included in the coverage for MS patients. She hopes that her story will be inspiring to others living with the disease and that new and unique connections might be made all over the world. "Just like the song" she says...

"Sharing stories
Old friends for a long, long time..."

To learn more about Multiple Sclerosis please visit www.nmss.org