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Wendy and Rik Cruise 2014-4

Spotlight on Our Musicians – Wendy & Rik

Wendy Becker and Rik Howard are long-time MFAS musicians and we talked to them about their experience working with us and what a performance is like from their point of view.

  1. How long have you been working with Music For All Seasons?

We have been working with MFAS about 10 years. A musical colleague of ours, Harvey Cohen, was coordinating artists on the West Coast, knew our work and invited us to be a part of MFAS.

  1. What is your musical/education background?
    Rik is a self-taught musician, but has written and sung themes for about a dozen network television series, and has scored several series. He has also won grand prize awards in several huge international songwriting contests. He plays guitar, piano, and sings.
    Wendy earned a B.F.A degree in Music Therapy from the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee and has been performing onstage since the age of five. As she grew, so did the stages, and she has shared them with Barbra Streisand, Josh Groban, David Foster and many other musical celebrities. She has written songs that have charted in Europe. In addition, as an actress she has performed on TV, the stage and in films. She plays piano and sings.
  1. What programs have you participated in with MFAS?
    – Children’s Oncology Ward and Kidney Dialysis units at Childrens’ Hospitals in Los Angeles and Orange County
    – Venice Free Clinic
    – Orangewood Childrens’ Home- emergency shelter for neglected and sexually, physically or emotionally abused children
    – Shelters for families victimized by domestic violence in Los Angeles and Orange County California as well as in New Jersey
    – Henry Street Settlement, New York(helping families feeling the effects of urban poverty)
    – Juvenile Detention Center, New Jersey
  2. What is the most rewarding part about working with MFAS?

It is truly amazing to see and experience the healing powers of music before our eyes. This is a very general description, but it seems that no matter what type of population we are dealing with this kind of scenario occurs.  We know that we are walking in to an audience of people of all ages who have possibly never experienced live musical performance. They have suffered and/or are suffering from various kinds of pain, both physical and emotional which is often evident by a sense of stiffness, but when we begin performing, within just a few moments, the whole room energy changes. There are smiles, and an easing of tension that we can see on their faces. As the performance goes on the whole general energy of the room shifts from tension to ease and joy. It is exhibited also by maybe clapping or singing along as well as interest in what we are playing. By the end of the hour, there is a definite difference that everyone feels. 

  1. Do you have any experiences/stories to share about your time with MFAS that really stand out?
    W-It is profoundly rewarding to do this kind of work. Utilizing our talents to lift the spirits and alleviate some of the pain that people may be experiencing is profound. I believe that we give a sense of hope in an otherwise dreary and hopeless kind of existence, sometimes without even having to say a word. It seems almost magical. I guess it’s the magic of music. I know from my studies that we have physical changes that occur in our bodies, just from listening to music-our heart rate changes, our posture and sweat glands even change. But here I also experience firsthand the fantastic changes that occur on many levels, and that change can stay for quite a while.
    For me (us) it is a natural high.

    R-I would imagine that a child that is not living with their nuclear family, or an abused woman and child, might have trust issues as a result of their experiences. I have seen the tentative expressions and uncertainty in their eyes. After a short period of time, they start to believe that we are there for their enjoyment and they start to relax into a new stance, with a sense that we won’t hurt them, or let them down. It is very important for us not to have any judgment in our hearts, and just maintain the hope that they will join with us on this journey. We must bring all of our talent and intention to fulfill this mission. I believe that each of these encounters can change a person forever.

  1. Do you have any final comments?

This work not only heals, but when we can touch others with our music, the effects for us are also very powerful. It is a real sense of doing work that is worthwhile, and so it becomes a healing process for us as musicians. Music heals and heals the healer.


Spotlight on Our Musicians

diane-michaelsDIANE MICHAELS, Harpist

Interviewed by Courtney Mayes

Music For All Seasons would not be able to provide music for the many shelters, hospitals, housing facilities, and veterans it does without the great talent of our musicians.  This blog takes a look at what a Music For All Seasons performance is like from the perspective of the musician.  We interviewed Diane Michaels, a harpist, who has been working with Music For All Seasons for more than fifteen years.

What is your musical background?
I have a Bachelor of Music Degree in Harp Performance from Oberlin College Conservatory of Music.

What programs have you participated in with MFAS?
Recently, the bulk of my performances have been in shelters for victims of domestic abuse and the programs are geared toward the children in residence.  Through the auspices of MFAS, I have performed for residents of a Juvenile Detention Center, at an Adult Correctional Facility, and for seniors in  a variety of venues: Hospices, Hospitals, Senior Housing and Long-Term Care facilities.

What is a MFAS performance is like from your perspective?
Regardless of the age group I’m performing for, I generally feel the excitement of the audience members when I wheel my harp into the facility.  I sense I am a welcome change from their daily schedule.  Some folks will interact with me, and more often, my harp as I take off the harp cover.  Most people have never seen a harp, so my performance begins before I’ve played a note.

Performing for seniors is easy because I meet so many folks with a rich experience of listening to music.  I know they will have personal connections with my repertoire.  When performing for children, I often am introducing them to the concert experience.  The harp is not the most, oh, energetic of instruments and requires a more still type of listening.  I speak in between each piece, looking to give them a sense of familiarity or a game plan for listening to an unfamiliar piece.  At my most recent performance – JBWS – I began with the question, “Who has ever heard of Beethoven?”  I got a good show of hands.

The sense of recognition continued when I played Beethoven’s “Fur Elise,” and I think when my audience feels a connection this early in a program, they sustain a much greater interest.  Young children do get restless, but older ones, especially kids who have had exposure to music through school programs are more engaged.  Although I have put together programs where I invite kids to dance to my music, I find that works best when I have a couple of 8-year old girls to lead the way.

I am comfortable with my role as a relaxing, rather than energizing performer.  Some of my more memorable performances have been for people who needed to listen to a soothing program.  One comes to mind: I was at a shelter.  My audience was 3 pregnant women and a 4th who had just had her baby.  At the end of the concert, all 3 pregnant women plus the baby were asleep.  Through my music, I provided what they needed.

What is the most rewarding part about working with MFAS?
I was about 9 or 10 when I first learned how my performances affected my audiences. Prior to that, I had only thought about the harp from my side of it.  As much as I loved the instrument, I was even more excited to know other people felt something when they listened to me.  I would much rather be an active part of the musical experience through a live performance than to hope the same happens when someone listens to a recording I’ve made.

MFAS introduces me to audiences who may not seek out an evening of harp music. When they have a profound experience listening to a live concert, it comes in a natural and unexpected manner.  I am at once challenged to reach them, but also free from an audience challenging me to deliver an anticipated experience.

Do you have any experiences/stories to share that really stand out to you during your time with MFAS?
I have had a few moving encounters from my years with MFAS.  The most vivid came through one of the shelter concerts.  I arrived to find no one in residence at a particular shelter.  I always enjoy chatting with the staff members there, so I stayed for a few minutes and we talked about an idea for an art project to combine with my next visit. While we were talking, she had to take a call on the hotline.  A woman and her children were in crisis and soon were picked up to bring them to safety.  Someone had the idea to hold off on the paperwork, and bring them directly to the shelter for a short concert.  As I played for the family, the older son, about 5, started asking me questions.  He wanted to know about school, chores, and other important areas of his life. I felt he chose me, rather than someone from the shelter because though the harp, I made him feel better about being thrust into a new world.  When I finished the program, his mother cried, very quietly.  I don’t think they were the sort of tears that reflected the active cycle of her recent trauma; they were calm, cleansing tears.  Again, I had the sense that I brought her to that place through my music.