WRITTEN BY MARTY M. HOHMANN, PHOTOGRAPHED BY JACKIE KENNEDY

Coweta, Music therapy, piedmont hospital, Music—it soothes and stimulates, invigorates and inspires.

While the power of music and the benefits it can provide in a clinical setting are significant, music as therapy is unavailable in most communities. Newnan, however, is fortunate to be home to a new and growing music therapy program.

Lyn Schenbeck, Central Educational Center (CEC) music educator and highly experienced music therapist, wasn’t content to enjoy her retirement from 50 years of teaching all aspects of music. Instead, she wanted to get her Music in Medicine program into the community to make a tangible difference.

She and Mark Whitlock, CEO at CEC, took the idea to someone they believed could help. That person was Cathy Wright, president of Newnan Rotary Club and a retired educator with a continuing passion for music.

“Music has always been the most important thing in my life,” says Wright. (Her musical family is featured on page __.)

Immediately sold on Schenbeck’s ideas, Wright drafted a grant proposal to Rotary District 6900. The local Rotary Club received two grants, totaling $12,000, to fund the Music in Medicine program.

“None of this would have happened without the CEC in the beginning and Rotary coming in with the money,” says Schenbeck, whose program takes music to memory care clients in local care facilities.

Schenbeck has witnessed firsthand the influence of music, especially with clients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

“It’s really an amazing tool,” she says, describing a woman she worked with years ago who was completely non-verbal. Through music therapy, “she sang first, and then started talking.”

Wright tells of a client she’s worked with who is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. After hearing music that had relevance to her younger years, like “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “Que Sera, Sera,” the client recalled that Judy Garland and Doris Day were the singers.

“It will take you right back to where you were,” says Wright of hearing songs from your past.

“What’s fascinating about music therapy, and this is why it differs from every other kind of art therapy, is that music literally changes the neural networks in the brain,” says Schenbeck. “It reorders them, and it can create affect or feeling that someone hasn’t felt in 50 years.”

Wright can attest to that fact, having pored over research documenting the benefits of music therapy in the process of preparing the grant.

Grant proceeds have purchased rhythm instruments, guitars, ukuleles, keyboards, hand bells and other materials for volunteer training. Not to be confused with entertainment, which is frequently available in senior care homes, the Music in Medicine program has measured goals that involve working with clients and evaluating the results.

Still in its infancy, the program offers sessions at Insignia, Benton House and Avalon care facilities. More volunteers are needed to reach other populations that can benefit.

“We want to spread out to the hospitals, cancer patients, little kids, everybody,” says Wright.

Newnan Piedmont Hospital shares the belief that the program has merit and has hired Mark Toole as a part-time music therapist. Fayette Piedmont Hospital also has hired a part-time music therapist to work with children of cancer patients.

“This is huge, you can see,” says Wright. “We’re going to keep going until we can get it everywhere we need to.”

Schenbeck adds, “We’re in the acorn stage right now.”

“Maybe mustard seed,” laughs Wright. “We’re going to need a lot more volunteers. The only thing you have to have is dedication. We want volunteers to commit to one hour a week at the same facility. It’s important that the same faces show up every time.”

Volunteers need not have musical training—just a desire to serve. Schenbeck and Wright will make sure everyone is fully trained to administer the program, which involves leading clients in songs, percussion improvisation, movement activities and CD listening tasks similar to “Name that Tune,” which challenges cognitive and processing abilities.

Instead of relaxing in retirement, Schenbeck and Wright keep moving. Schenbeck continues to substitute teach at CEC, serves on the board of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, and is the founder and director of the Centre Strings, a local orchestra featuring players from age 8 to 80.

“There are too many exciting things that need to be done than to just sit at home and read a book,” says Schenbeck.

Wright performs with her family’s bluegrass band, The Straynotes, sings with an acapella trio she has performed with for 60 years, and leads the children’s choir at Central Baptist Church.

For more information or to volunteer, contact Schenbeck at lyn.schenbeck@gmail.com or Wright at glenmarcathy@gmail.com.