Healing with music
Starving Artists members perform songs for brain injury patient
Published: Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, April 24, 2012 23:04
Brandeis is known for its many talented and diverse a cappella groups. We go to their shows, applaud for our favorite songs and hum the tunes stuck in our heads. Music has the power to bring a community together, even just for a moment, but music can also touch people in a different way. On March 30, the singing group Starving Artists performed for Andy, whose last name is not given to protect his privacy, a Waltham resident living in a group home for those with traumatic brain injuries.
At the group home, Daniel Stewart is responsible for the residents and assists them with daily tasks, like taking medicine. Stewart first realized Andy’s penchant for music when he was listening to a college a cappella group on the radio and he heard Andy start to sing along. “I started thinking if there’s an a cappella group somewhere around, wouldn’t it be great to have him meet them and brighten his day a little bit,” said Stewart in an interview with the Justice.
Stewart ended up contacting Ellyn Getz ’13, the events coordinator of Starving Artists, one of the a capella groups on campus. “I was so happy to be contacted by Dan. I brought the idea to the group, we all agreed that we would really enjoy the experience, and I planned the rehearsal date with Dan,” she said. Getz was excited that the group was given the opportunity, especially because “[Dan] was so impressed by the music we created and mentioned that it would be so cool to expose Andy to the way that we arrange and piece music together,” she added.
On the day of the rehearsal, the group members were nervous about what to expect. Sarit Friedman ’13 said “Some people were both nervous like what it would be like and… if [Andy] would feel bad if he couldn’t catch on to some of the syllables. But we had said right off the bat whatever you can do, do and whatever you don’t feel like doing just enjoy it.” Instead of just a show, the performance became an interactive rehearsal where Andy could fully immerse himself in the music and experience what it is like to be in an a cappella group.
While singing with Starving Artists, “there were a couple of moments where [Andy] would close his eyes and sway. You can just tell when somebody feels the music,” said Friedman. Andy, the victim of a drunk-driving accident, suffers from a brain injury but Stewart described him as an extremely intelligent man with a love for music. Not only a source of entertainment, music also has a beneficial effect on the brain. “Without a doubt, music has had a positive impact on Andy’s life,” because Andy frequently listens to a cappella and attends the symphony, Stewart said.
Marlee Rosenthal ’14, another group member, thoroughly enjoyed singing for Andy. “I was really amazed at how a lot of the group members really got into it. It could have just been ‘okay we’re doing a mini-little rehearsal,’ but each Starving Artists member really included Andy and Dan into the experience … We had a constant dialogue going on,” she explained.
During the rehearsal, the group practiced several songs and incorporated Andy into their sets. “At first, Andy was a little slow to warm up, but he ended up standing in the circle with us. He would chime in with a couple of notes here and there,” said Friedman.
Stewart was particularly touched when during the girls’ solos they leaned in towards Andy, singing directly to him. “They just took him right under their wing. The love they exuded toward Andy touched me and I know it touched them,” said Stewart.
The group members were also touched by the experience. Rosenthal said that it was a “win-win situation. I think we made his day, but we also lifted our spirits up too because it showed us that this a cappella group is not just about singing, it’s about community building and pushing the envelope and doing things that we normally wouldn’t do.”
Getz added that performing for Andy is one of her favorite memories at Brandeis. “It was so moving to see how the music inspired Andy—and inspired us to share our passion for music with him,” she explained.
After rehearsal, Starving Artists was slated to perform on the Great Lawn as part of Bronstein Week and invited Andy and Stewart to watch them. “At one point during the concert, Ellyn said ‘This song is for you Andy.’ He was just sitting there watching and he was touched,” said Stewart.
Looking ahead, Friedman hopes to continue singing for more people outside of the Brandeis community. “It was a really great experience for us to have and I hope we have more of them in the future,” she said. Rosenthal expressed the same sentiment and “wish[ed] we were able to meet more people. To sing for more people.”
The group hopes to become more involved in the Waltham community through what Friedman calls “the gift of music.” This Sunday, they will be singing at a nursing home and will also hold food-drives and charitable fundraisers, according to Getz.
Most memorable is the effect that Starving Artists’ compassion had on Andy and how reaching out to one individual can be so moving. Stewart was particularly moved by the occasion and said, “It really brought me to tears. All the kids … it hit me how talented they were.”