Maya’s gift to Richmond: Music therapy for people with developmental disabilities
on April 15, 2015
As she gets off BART, Chloe Lipton makes her way to one of her favorite destinations: Maya’s Music Therapy Fund. Her new caretaker, Kayla Jenkins, worries that they might be going in the wrong direction. But Lipton knows exactly where she’s going—after all it’s been 25 years.
Lipton, Maya’s most loyal client, has cerebral palsy, a disability resulting from damage to the brain, which manifests itself in muscular incoordination and speech disturbances. For the past 27 years, Maya’s has provided music therapy sessions to adults and teenagers with developmental disabilities ranging from cerebral palsy to autism, Down syndrome or Rett Syndrome, a neurological disability found mostly in girls.
The fund was created in memory of Maya Cooper, a young girl who was born in Tel Aviv, but grew up in Berkeley. She was severely disabled, unable to walk or talk, yet she found a way to communicate through music. Her mother, Joanna Cooper, writing by email, said that Maya “loved to have her fingers strum guitar, banjo or mandolin strings, and to get assistance in tapping a drum, push the keys of a piano or shake maracas or a tambourine.” Her parents set up the fund to enable others with disabilities to experience the benefits of group and individual music therapy.
A year after Maya’s untimely death in 1988, the non-profit hired a young Dutch music therapist named Titia Martin-Nagel to conduct the sessions. After 26 years, Martin-Nagel remains the main instructor at Maya’s, hosting group and individual classes each week in Richmond and Berkeley. “If there is no verbal way for you to communicate any of those things,” said Martin-Nagel, “then music for some people is the only way to express how they feel.”
The classes are held at the Richmond’s Disabled Person’s Recreational Center, and the non-profit receives most of its funds from private donations. Its instruments are also donated, and include drums, a piano, maracas, tambourines and guitars.
Offering group and individual classes to its 114 students, Maya’s operates on fee-based classes but the program does not exclude participants for financial reasons. “One of the goals of Maya’s Therapy Fund is to provide the services regardless of ability to pay,” said Martin-Nagel, “and to make it available to those otherwise not able to get music therapy.”
Every year, Maya’s prepares a spring music festival, showcasing the participants’ talents. This year’s festival was called “Over the Rainbow,” and performers sang or played from an iPad keyboard, pianos, guitars, tambourines, and drums.
Martin-Nagel never met Maya, yet heard about her love for music. “Having music and listening and being involved with music was Maya’s way of being fully involved and engaged in the world,” she said. And this holds true for Lipton. In her early forties, Lipton attends the Tuesday group session and always stays later for her individual class with Martin-Nagel, where they pick songs and play. When asked what her favorite song is, she quickly answers, “Puff the Magic Dragon,” with a big smile.
Now, it’s time for Lipton’s feet to make music. Martin-Nagel uses AUMI (Adaptive Use Musical Instruments), an iPad app enabling people with limited mobility to engage independently in making music, which suits the needs of some students. By pointing the iPad’s sensor towards her wheelchair bound feet, Lipton produces the scale of piano sounds by slowly lifting her feet up and down. Each lift is met with encouragement from Martin-Nagel and the intern. After a couple of songs, Lipton starts to tire, so Martin-Nagel switches from working with Lipton’s feet to concentrating on her hand movements.
Martin-Nagel uses different methods to address the different needs of her students. Having played most of the instruments inside the classroom, Lipton is adamant that her favorite instrument is the piano, but that doesn’t stop her from testing out her skills on the digital drum module. Martin-Nagel heads to the wall to pick out a drumstick and attaches an adhesive, making it easier for Lipton to hold on to the stick. Martin-Nagel challenges Lipton to stretch her arm as far as possible to touch the different drum pads. A slow drumbeat starts, and then the music therapy intern joins in with a guitar. The sounds combine and bring smiles to all in the room. With each tap, Lipton’s face lights up in utter delight.
It’s past lunchtime and Lipton is nearing the end of her session. Holding her drumstick by hand, she continues her freestyle, slowly tapping the drum and cymbal. Then in true rock star fashion, she drops her drumstick and laughs, signaling the end of today’s music lesson.
For more information on Maya’s Music Therapy Fund, visit: http://www.mayasmusic.org/
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