Westchester Music Conservatory Launches Therapy Program For Veterans

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Coordinators with students Earl Parks and Dallas Woollard. Photo Credit: Contributed

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- The Music Conservatory of Westchester is harnessing the power of music to bring joy to veterans.

The nonprofit community music school in White Plains announced the launch of a new music therapy initiative for military veterans “Healing Our Heroes,” during a recent press conference held at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in Manhattan.

The program evaluates and assigns interested veterans to specified music therapy, group music therapy, adapted instruction, or regular instruction.

According to Jean Newton, the conservatory's executive director, Noelle Berger, a parent of a daughter taking guitar lessons at the conservatory, suggested offering music therapy to veterans. 

Berger is a counselor at the Bronx VA Hospital.

"She told us she had a couple of guys who she thought would really benefit from lessons," Newton said, "She suggested we become a vendor for the Veterans Administration (VA), which we did, and we had a couple of students who came in through that avenue."

However, funding from the VA was short-term and limited.

"It wasn't conducive to longevity and continuity, which are important in music therapy of any sort," she said.

Then, early this year, board member Joel Breitkopf, of Scarsdale, opened discussion on starting a program to help veterans through music.

"When he brought it to us, I said, 'Well, we already have the infrastructure in place, it's just a question of raising funds,'" Newton said.

Breitkopf, who is the founding sponsor of the Breitkopf Family Veterans Scholarship Fund, said, "I have been looking for an opportunity to passionately participate in a worthwhile charity. When I realized the Conservatory had an already established successful Music Therapy Institute, I knew there was an opportunity to combine my two passions: music and veterans rights." 

The program now has relationships with every veterans association and hospital in the area.

They have five, soon to be eight, students in the programs, which are guaranteed for two years, three if necessary. 

"It's never too late to learn. No matter who you are, your age, or skill level, you put a musical instrument in someone's hand, and they experience motivation, joy and positive reinforcement," Newton said.

According to Newton, research supports the idea music-learning utilizes both sides of the brain, and can help individuals who have experienced brain injury.

"They're finding it helps with memory," she said, "And we've found learning can take place in a surprisingly short amount of time."

The conservatory plans to hold fund-raisers to provide scholarships to more veterans, and encourages donations. 

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