terça-feira, 22 de dezembro de 2009


TEXTO EM INGLES: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/chi-music-teachers-21-dec21,0,1633975,full.story

Learning to play an instrument, experts say, allows hidden talents to sing

By Lisa Black

Tribune reporter

Elizabeth "Lizzi" Gottlieb loves music and she loves an audience, so when her flute teacher comes calling on Tuesday evenings, she is quick to assemble her family for an impromptu concert.

At 21, Gottlieb has played the flute since fifth grade, an immensely rewarding hobby for the young woman with Down syndrome who practices for hours in her bedroom.

"Lizzi will never be a total virtuoso, but she can play hundreds of songs and get joy out of it," says her longtime instructor, Bob Lieberman, 58, who tapped his foot as she played "Yellow Submarine."

Lieberman and other music teachers understood long before being validated by research that playing an instrument offers much more than simple pleasures and emotional release. For children and adults with disabilities, music can unleash especially powerful gifts, helping them communicate or process information in new ways, researchers say.

While music therapists work on life skills, improving wellness, self-esteem and accomplishment, there are invisible benefits at play, too, that can be had even in more traditional lessons not tied to a medical purpose.

"Music is non-threatening, and it is all around us," said Melaine Pohlman, a Geneva music therapist and president of the Illinois Association for Music Therapy. "We are all able to experience it on some level. Even folks who are severely impaired can experience music."

Increasingly, parents are signing up children for music lessons who, years ago, might not have gotten the chance because of a disability. In Hinsdale, for instance, Autumn Voakes, executive director of the American Music Institute said that more parents are seeking lessons for children with autism. She hired two teachers with special-education experience as a result and hopes to expand her programs to specialize in the area, she said.

Listening to music stimulates the brain in areas involved with paying attention, making predictions and updating memory, said Vinod Menon, associate professor of psychiatry, behavioral sciences and neurosciences at Stanford University.

But playing an instrument challenges the brain even more, engaging the visual, motor and auditory systems as the musician reads notes and moves his or her hands and body to perform while listening to the sounds.

"This is a good way to engage multiple networks in the brain," Menon said. "They establish temporal patterns. How exactly this might improve mental and cognitive functions is at present unclear. I think it would be quite surprising if they did not have a significant impact."

Rebekah Cope, 31, a violin teacher for The Musical Offering in Evanston, counts several students with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder as among her most talented.

One of them, Karlita Williams, 14, a freshman at Payton High School in Chicago, has played half a dozen instruments, including violin and, more recently, viola. She often needs more time to learn the lesson, but "then she comes back two weeks later and is playing beautifully," Cope said.

"She has these very elaborate ways of finding a note and learning what she's playing," Cope said. "It seems complicated to everyone else but makes sense to her."

Karlita, diagnosed at 9 with ADHD, said she finds it easier to focus when working with a teacher one-on-one. She tried ballet and tap dance classes when younger but found it too tempting to socialize with others.

Often she needs Cope to repeat instructions in different ways, sometimes over a period of weeks, before she fully understands.

"I hear her, but I have a problem where -- you know how you hear people talk but you aren't really listening? You are not processing the information," Karlita said. "I had one teacher say I learn by osmosis. I space out. It takes a while."

During a recent lesson, she shifted from one sneakered foot to the other while playing "Danny Boy" on viola in Cope's Northwest Side apartment.

Cope listened intently, violin in hand, stopping the performance every few measures to correct Karlita's hand positioning or demonstrate by playing along.

Over and over, they repeated the part until both were satisfied that Karlita would nail the song during an upcoming concert.

The teen, who performs with the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra, said she can tell when she has played the song correctly by the look on her teacher's face.

"When you get it perfect, it's great," she said.

Families often learn the benefits of music therapy at the child's school but encounter waiting lists for private sessions because of a shortage of trained therapists, Voakes said.

"When I was younger, I worked at a studio and I was one of a few teachers who was comfortable in taking autistic students," Voakes said. "The biggest benefit is emotional, having something that they can connect to, something that they feel is their own."

None of that would surprise Lieberman of Arlington Heights, who has worked with students of all ages since 1974, some with disabling diseases that affect the brain, including multiple sclerosis and encephalitis. Gottlieb is one of two students with Down syndrome on his teaching roster.

Anyone can learn an instrument if they have the desire to practice, much like an athlete, he said.

Lieberman met Gottlieb when she was in grade school and playing the clarinet.

After taking one look at her tiny fingers, he announced that the flute would be a better choice.

She has entertained her family ever since, with older brother, Matthew, 23, suggesting which songs she should perform during lessons and adjusting her hair so it doesn't fall in her face.

Though the petite Gottlieb usually sits on a stool during her living room sessions with Lieberman, she is found at other times sitting on the floor, cross-legged, playing the flute, her brother said.

"She will sometimes lock herself in her bedroom and play for hours," he said.

None of the other family members, including two younger sisters, is musically inclined, said sister, Hannah, 17, describing herself as tone-deaf.

"I was a really bad flutist," she said, laughing when her mother, Susan, agreed.

Gottlieb, who had her third heart surgery at age 16, recovered more quickly by playing the wind instrument, which built up her strength with its breathing requirements, her mother said.

Lieberman "has been so patient and yet so challenging for her," Susan Gottlieb said.

Lizzi Gottlieb counts Hannah Montana and the Beatles among her favorites. She once sneaked downstairs in the middle of the night and loaded her father's iPod with her own selections, effectively making the music player her own.

Her father, Scott, enjoys telling that story. But mostly, he boasts of his daughter's work with Lieberman.

"He treats her like everyone else," he said. "That's what we like in this house."

Copyright © 2009, Chicago Tribune

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