Experience the healing power of music at Tuesday drum classes


By Paul Roberts
Special to The PREVIEW
Join musician and music therapist Paul Roberts for a free hand-drumming class at the Pagosa Lakes Clubhouse on Tuesday, Feb. 20, at noon.
The class offers a welcoming environment that encourages fun, creativity, playfulness and connecting with others.
The Summer of Love was fast approaching. The Beatles were getting ready to release “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Timothy Leary was preaching “turn on, tune in, drop out” to the hippie counterculture. The generation gap was reaching an all-time high. It was the spring of ’67.
At this tumultuous cultural juncture, McLean Hospital, a psychiatric institution affiliated with Harvard Medical School, was experiencing an influx of disturbed adolescent patients.
“Searching for therapies that might connect with their music-addled, alienated charges, McLean hired a young rock musician named Paul Roberts to conduct music therapy classes,” writes Alex Beam in his book, “Gracefully Insane: Life and Death Inside America’s Premier Mental Hospital.” “McLean had a music therapy department. But they did not have a sitar-playing cool guy; as it happened, McLean and Roberts had been looking for each other … Roberts was not exactly sure what he was doing, but whatever he was doing, it was working.”
McLean had a nice music therapy facility, but when I arrived, it was being used very little. Given free rein, I formed patient bands, taught music lessons and developed a social scene around music. The fact that I had no formal training or background in music therapy didn’t impede the process; I had the enthusiastic support of some heavyweights in the mental health field. The ripples this program set off were out of the ordinary for a psychiatric setting. The patients were delighted. Some staff members were encouraging, but others were shaken and didn’t know how to take it. Gradually, it became generally recognized that music therapy was having a very positive effect, even central in the treatment for some patients.
I was asked to give a presentation on why music therapy was having a dramatic effect, after which I received a letter from the hospital directer, Dr. Francis de Marneffe, in which he wrote: “I want to congratulate you on your excellent presentation at last Friday’s Academic Conference. It was a most impressive performance, encompassing as it did the theoretical, clinical and artistic dimensions of your work in music therapy. I have for years been asking the question ‘What special, unique contribution could music therapy make to a therapeutic program?’ and your presentation certainly supplied the clearest answer to my question to date.”
Nowadays, the cat is out of the bag. There is a lot more awareness about the benefits of music therapy than when I happened upon the field.
Fast-forwarding a half century: I just received an email — germane to my drumming class — from Dayle Huffman, who has given me permission to use it for this article.
“Thank you for the wonderful hand-drumming session last week,” she wrote. “I am a retired nurse, working most of my career in home care assistance and occupational health. Both my lifelong nursing career and my own personal life experiences, help me see so many applications for well-being and healing via drumming. I was very amazed at how well you coordinated all different abilities in the same circle, making sure no one was left out and, at the same time, recognizing you had a talented musician in the group, whom you let show his free spirit.
“At my current stage of life, I’ve been searching for what my path might be. For almost a year, I’ve been thinking about drum circles, learning to drum myself and, in turn, using those skills to help people deal with PTSD. What I’ve been struggling with in my hometown back in Ohio is finding someone who can help me learn the skills needed to facilitate a drum circle.
“Now, here I am on vacation in Pagosa Springs, Colorado and, lo and behold, I find exactly what I needed to convince me that’s what I need to take back home. Thanks from the bottom of my heart for last week’s confidence building day. I enjoy reflecting on how life-changing an event can be to the receiver when the giver has no idea how big it was. I really appreciate what you gave.
“My son, Seth Phillips, is a musician in the Denver area. He and his daughters, Abbie and Rachel, were with me for your drumming class. All four of us had a delightful time and we all felt very welcome even though we were from out of town. The girls, who are very musically inclined, observed after we left that we had just completed a three generational drumming experience!
“I had a lesson from a lady in Maine who conducts drum circles with women who are healing from abuse. Her descriptions of the transformations that she witnesses in her group inspired me beyond measure. That led me to thinking about doing something similar. I shared my dream with my brother who is a veteran. His passion for his career working with veterans inspire me to reach out to that group, as well. There are numerous opportunities for me to lead groups in my home town in Ohio.”
I have accepted a request by Huffman to be a consultant for her therapeutic drumming programs.
Drumming in one village can send a hopeful message to those in another village, no matter how far away.
For more information about the Pagosa Springs hand-drumming class, email banjocrazy@centurytel.net or call 731-3117. The Pagosa Lakes Clubhouse is located at 230 Port Ave.