Music for Healing

“They’re here!”

Seattle Symphony Teaching Artists Meg Guchee and Rafael Howell are greeted by hugs and smiles from the preschoolers at Northwest Center Kids when they arrive to teach music classes. Three times a month, Teaching Artists from the Symphony visit the children of Northwest Center Kids to lead classes that include singing, dancing and playing musical instruments.

On this occasion, Guchee leads the students in a reading of Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae, a story about a giraffe named Gerald who wants nothing more than to dance. While Guchee reads the story, Howell plays the violin. The class dances to The Blue Danube Waltz by Johann Strauss, a lullaby by Johannes Brahms and Turkey in the Straw as they follow Gerald’s musical adventures.

“We can all dance when we find the music that we love,” Guchee finishes reading. Then she asks the class, “What music makes you want to dance?”

The children respond by taking turns playing a drum while the others dance.

“More than just asking them to mimic and repeat something, we ask the students to also be involved in the creation of the activity,” said Howell. “The purpose of this is to foster team work, inclusion and sense of community.”

According to Kristin Schneider, Education and Community Engagement Manager for the Seattle Symphony and a licensed music therapist, music can be a very effective way for children to express themselves.

“Children thrive in environments with predictable structures,” said Schneider. “Music has that structure, and can help them share their feelings even if they may have difficulty expressing themselves through words.”

Teaching Artists Rafael Howell and Meg Guchee at Northwest Center Kids.

For the last two years, the Symphony has partnered with Northwest Center Kids, which provides an inclusive early learning program. Children of all abilities play side by side, learning valuable lessons from each other.

“From the beginning of our partnership, the Symphony’s Teaching Artists were open to modifying their lessons to suit the needs of our classrooms,” said Laura Kneedler, Executive Director of Northwest Center Kids. "In doing so, they have empowered each child to access music in a meaningful and respectful way. Through music, and our partnership, our children continue to discover the beauty of diversity.”

Bringing people together through music is an important part of the Symphony’s Community Connections program, which currently involves more than 50 local nonprofits focusing on social services, health and welfare, military, youth development, seniors and cultural heritage. Not everyone can make it to the concert hall, so Teaching Artists from the Seattle Symphony are out working in our community almost every week of the year.

For the residents of Gaffney House, an assisted living home managed by Full Life Care, the bi-weekly visit from the Symphony’s Teaching Artists is an opportunity to sing and interact with their families. According to Schneider, these activities can help facilitate memory.

“Research has shown that music simultaneously activates many parts of the brain that facilitate memory,” said Schneider. “Music from their past can be an especially powerful way for residents to reconnect with parts of their memory that they might not normally be able to access.”

Other activities — like touching or holding instruments — engage the residents by providing new experiences. They also create a way for families to communicate with their loved ones.

“In the past we have had their families change the lyrics of a song to talk about something they love about the resident in the assisted living facility,” said Deven Inch, Seattle Symphony Teaching Artist. “Those can be really meaningful to both the family and the resident when they can no longer communicate through words.”

Teaching Artists Deven Inch and Shelby Leyland at Gaffney House.

In addition to the programs at Northwest Center Kids and Full Life Care, the Seattle Symphony works with other area nonprofits to remove barriers to experiencing music, whether through complimentary tickets, travel assistance, or special programming.

“We work with our nonprofit partners to provide inclusive and accessible programming to our community – especially for the people who may have the least access to the concert hall,” said Laura Reynolds, Director of Education and Community Engagement.

To support the Seattle Symphony’s work in the community, visit or call Donor Relations at 206.215.4832. Every gift makes a difference!

Posted on April 27, 2016