By Julie Muhlstein Herald Columnist
Carolyn Weikel is an unlikely cheerleader for what used to be the Everett Symphony.
If her name sounds familiar, it’s not because Weikel plays a mean violin. She does have happy memories of going to hear the Boston Pops orchestra as a child.
“I am your county auditor,” she told an audience Tuesday evening at the Everett Music Hall. The venue at Everett Mall was once a triplex movie theater. “When God was handing out music genes, I was way over on the other side,” Weikel said.
Yet Weikel wasn’t speaking as county auditor. She is part of a new advisory task force working with the Snohomish County Music Project. That’s a nonprofit organization launched in 2011, restructured from what was once the Everett Symphony Orchestra.
When the symphony fell on hard times, its board made a bold decision. The organization’s new mission is to reach beyond classical music aficionados.
“We’ve made a huge transition,” said Roger Pawley, Snohomish County Music Project’s executive director. “Everett Symphony was an arts organization. Now we’re a human services organization. That philosophical shift opened a whole world for us.”
The purpose of Tuesday’s meeting was to introduce a new goal, a Music Therapy Initiative.
With the idea of music as medicine, the music project wants to extend its reach to three groups: veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, at-risk teens and kids involved in the juvenile justice system, and elderly people suffering from dementia and depression.
Weikel hopes the community will support music-therapy programs “to touch our most vulnerable members.” She plans to talk about music therapy with local service organizations. The music project has produced a brochure seeking donations.
Several music-therapy supporters spoke at Tuesday’s meeting.
Nathan Sutton works as an outreach specialist at the Everett Vet Center. A Marine Corps veteran, Sutton served three tours in Iraq. When he left the Marines, having suffered a traumatic brain injury, he said “nobody understood.”
“I played guitar, and that helped me express things I couldn’t otherwise,” Sutton said. He said that after his injury, playing guitar chords bolstered his memory. Sutton shared videos of veterans in guitar classes and drum circles. The music project hopes to work with veterans agencies here to offer programs similar to Wisconsin’s Guitars 4 Vets. That successful program gives donated guitars and lessons to war veterans.
Margaret Howard also spoke Tuesday. A community education specialist at Denney Juvenile Justice Center, she brings teens involved in the court system to the Music Hall for drum sessions. The effort is part of the court’s Reclaiming Futures program.
“I’ve seen drum circles, suddenly these kids are no longer marginalized. They’re not criminals. They’re not drug addicts. They become musicians,” Howard said.
The music project also hopes to reach elderly people struggling with dementia or depression.
Patti Catalano is a music therapist with Music Works Northwest in Bellevue. At the meeting, she talked about how music boosts memory and quality of life. “Music instantly takes you back in time. It’s another little file folder in your brain,” she said.
A touching video played at the meeting shows an elderly man in a nursing home. His name is Henry. When he hears songs from his younger years on an iPod, his initial appearance of blank disinterest is transformed. He smiles and sings, even answering questions about old songs. The video was produced by Music &Memory, a nonprofit group that uses donated iPods to help people with memory problems.
Karla Hawley, another music therapist, said at the meeting that teens explore who they are through favorite songs. And elderly people regain a sense of belonging when they hear “what was popular when they were growing up,” Hawley said.
Already, the Snohomish County Music Project has helped older people through its “Come Together” concert. The event in March paired a Beatles cover band with the Sound Edge Pops Orchestra to raise money for Senior Services of Snohomish County.
“Something about music touches all of us,” Weikel said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, email@example.com.
To contact the Snohomish County Music Project, call 425-258-1605 or email: roger@scMusicProject.org. Information: www.scMusicProject.org.