Department of Communication Disorders to Host Concert to Raise Community Awareness

March 4, 2019

The Department of Communication Disorders in conjunction with the UMass Amherst Stroke Support Group will host Broken Chords, Healing Harmonies, a concert to raise awareness of individuals with communication impairments and the healing power of music, on Saturday, March 30, from 1:00 – 2:15 pm in the Northampton Center for the Arts.

Featuring song and piano music with works by Ravel, Ives, Vaughan Williams, Beethoven, and Mendelssohn, the concert will culminate in a performance by members of the Healing Harmonies choir, a community group comprised of students, alumni, faculty, and community members living with communication challenges. The choir is led by Shelley Roberts, a UMass alumna who has received advanced training in leading and developing choirs to benefit individuals with communication disorders.

The Department of Communication Disorders supports the needs of a diverse clientele living in the greater Pioneer Valley, notes Lisa Sommers, Clinical Assistant Professor in Communication Disorders and Clinic Director of the department’s Center for Language, Speech, and Hearing.

“Our primary goal is to shine a light on the diversity of clients with neurogenic communication impairments that are served by the department and our amazing graduate students, and the transformative, healing power of music in neurorehabilitation,” she states.

“In rehearsal, we gather to improve breath support and vocal quality,” says Christian Schwebler, a graduate student in speech-language pathology and former opera singer who is organizing and performing at the concert. “We learn songs, and we get to practice them together. There has been a secondary benefit to recruiting this heterogeneous mixture of people from all walks of life—new connections and relationships get to form in the most unexpected and surprising fashion. Community building. This would not be possible without the bravery and leadership of faculty and students who are willing to take risks, to go above and beyond the classroom walls, to benefit the members of this diverse community. It is time to shine a light on this.”

Many of the composers featured in the program lived with aphasia, dementia, unilateral hearing loss, bilateral hearing loss, notes Schwebler. These are all conditions that speech-language pathology graduate students have learned about through coursework and clinical practica. “Despite their conditions, these composers retained a profound connection to music to the very end of their lives.”

The performance is free and open to the public. This program was made possible (in part) by a grant from the UMass Arts Council.