Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Background Information on INSPIRIT - The Healing Power of Music

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Sharing the Healing Power of Music
Karen Antonucci

As Palm Beach County Medical Society’s Project Access reaches out to provide health care services to those most in need, local arts organization Inspirit reaches out to the isolated, often forgotten people living in health care and other restricted facilities. “We believe in the healing power of music,” says co-founder and Executive Director Ginny Meredith, “and Inspirit provides the joy of live music and the performing arts to those who don't have the option of leaving the place where they reside to experience it.” Meredith, a Lake Worth-based violinist who performs with the Banyan Street Jug Band, and with singer/songwriter Suzanne Cannon, co-founded Inspirit to bring live music and the performing arts to people living in nursing homes, hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, children’s shelters, mental health centers, group homes, assisted living facilities, Alzheimer’s day care centers, abuse safe houses and many other similar facilities.

Meredith was inspired with how music enriched her own life as she was enduring chemotherapy after a breast cancer diagnosis in 1998. She's been in remission ever since, and saw Inspirit as a way to give something to people in predicaments similar to hers. Founded in 2000 as a 501c3, Meredith conducted a needs assessment and based Inspirit on similar organizations from across the country, including Bread and Roses, a program started by Mimi Farina (sister of folk singer Joan Baez) in San Francisco in the early '70s, Heart and Soul in Salt Lake City, and New York City’s Musicians On Call. Start up funding of $10,000 from the Community Foundation of Palm Beach and Martin Counties launched Inspirit performances.

"People are finally starting to understand the relationship between music and healing," Meredith says. "I have seen Alzheimer's patients faces light up as they hear and recall words to songs from an earlier time in their lives." Just ask Ron Radcliffe, Vice President of Specialized Day Care at Alzheimer’s Community Care about the impact on residents, “The music and entertainment offerings provided by Inspirit have proven to be an invaluable resource in providing our patients with opportunities to express themselves through the powerful medium of music”.

The experience of live music brings joy to audience members and provides an opportunity for human interaction on a level that only the arts can provide. During and following an Inspirit performance, participants experience an array of positive emotions, which increases both their physiological and psychological well-being. Research by Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D., a professor of Psychology at the University of North Carolina in the emerging field of positive emotions suggests that experiencing positive emotions, like joy, gratitude, hope or peace – is a sign that a person is, at that moment, not experiencing fear, anger, or sadness. Positive emotions improve coping and produce well being. They do so not just in the present moment, but over the long term as well. Her research also shows that positive emotions can have profound social and organizational repercussions.

Inspirit activities include coordinating production of live cultural performances at no cost to host organizations throughout Palm Beach County. Performances are typically scheduled for one hour in a small group setting and performers are carefully matched with audiences that range in age from 2 to 102. The type of performance varies, and Inspirit’s roster includes a wide range of talent including a jazz trio, barbershop quartet, harpist, acoustic guitarist, keyboard players, singer/songwriters, and everything in between. For the performers, especially the many senior retired professionals, the impact of positive emotions are just as great for them as well as the audience. They are able to experience a unique and appreciative audience and contribute in a meaningful way to their community. Late drummer & vocalist Nat Epstein (formerly with the Spike Jones Orchestra) continued to perform for Inspirit while in his 80’s said, "I experience things through playing for Inspirit that I never even saw performing in New York City. To entertain people in need is equal parts music and therapy - for both myself and the audience."

Since 2000, Inspirit has provided more than 660 performances for over 21,000 people in 85 different facilities. Like many not-for-profit organizations, Inspirit gets by with a part time staff of three, a volunteer Board of Directors, and an annual budget under $50,000. Yet its accomplishments have been well recognized. In 2008, Inspirit was a finalist for a Muse Award from the Palm Beach County Cultural Council for its outstanding achievement in improving the quality of life in Palm Beach County. Other arts groups provide free or discounted tickets, however these opportunities do not reach the audience that Inspirit serves.

Meredith, who has worked full-time in maternal child health agencies while she's doubled as Inspirit's Executive Director says, "We may not be dramatically changing peoples' lives, or the world, but we are spreading hope and joy. Music is the universal language, so we're adding more light to the good side of our existence, and ultimately that's what does change the world." Meredith can tell story after story of how Inspirit performers have touched the lives of audience members. There’s the father whose son smiled for the first time in a week after watching a show at the Nicklaus Children’s Hospital at St. Mary’s in West Palm Beach. And the young man at the Palm Beach Habilitation Center who requested an Elvis song and gave his best impression of the rock legend’s dance moves with the audience cheering him on. “There’s a goosebump moment at every performance” reflects Meredith and for the veterans living at the VA Medical Center Extended Care facility, this year’s Father’s Day celebration included a performance by Middle Eastern (belly) dancer, Laurel Kadouri. Accompanied by a percussionist and with multiple costume changes, she is an audience favorite that brings on lots of clapping and wide smiles.

Percussionist and guitarist Michael Moses and vocalist Gayle Coursol of the duo Night Music recently performed at this year’s Heroes in Medicines Awards luncheon at the Cohen Pavilion. They have performed for Inspirit for years covering all types of resident facilities. “Having an audience that really appreciates the songs is a good thing,” Moses said. “If we make one person smile more today than yesterday, it has made my day because we touched someone”.

Inspirit is striving to keep up with the demand for services, and plans to provide 140 performances this coming year. Supported by grants and individual donors, even small donations make a big impact on this lean organization. Meredith hopes to continue to be able to serve this ever growing population in our community and has set a goal of reaching 200 performances per year by 2010. Help support this arts organization that partners in healthcare and volunteer to serve on their Board of Directors or donate/sponsor a performance at one of your favorite facilities.

For more information, visit http://www.inspiritlive.org/ or call 561.889.4388.

Inspirit is proud to announce its 2009 fundraising event:

Saturday, April 25th
Players Club Restaurant

Inspirit Idol “Karaoke for a Cause”

An outstanding night of entertainment that will bring out the area’s best amateur voices to be judged by a panel of local celebrities including:

Frank Cerabino-Palm Beach Post columnist and saxophone player extraordinaire
Virginia Lang- Wild Morning Show host, 95.5FM
Bill Meredith – drummer/percussionist and Palm Beach Post Local Music columnist
Gin Weintraub-Singer/songwriter, founding member of local band Inhouse and Programming Associate at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts

Participate in this event as a Contestant, Event Sponsor or Audience Member! See for details visit http://www.inspiritlive.org/

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