The Arc Rockland Partners with Rockland Conservatory of Music

For Immediate Release
Contact: Anna Gotlieb
845.267.2500 ext.3104


musicTo sit in on the music therapy session at Rockland Conservatory of Music is to witness a transformation. The group of 18 individuals from The Arc Rockland attending this weekly session represents a range of physical, intellectual and developmental disabilities.  One person uses a wheelchair. One is visually impaired.  Several do not use words to communicate.  Others shy away from social interaction or have difficulty remaining focused.  But within minutes, they are all engaged.  Over the course of the hour, shyness is overcome, talents emerge.  And by the end of the session they are performing solos.

Are these really the same people who came in at the beginning of the hour?  How did this happen? “I have to say, it’s magic,” says Marigene Kettler, Executive Director of the Rockland Conservatory of Music in Pearl River. She says it with a smile, but there is some truth to her description. Ms. Kettler has been eager to provide music therapy since her arrival at the Conservatory in 1999. After a few brief attempts, an ongoing partnership was established with The Arc Rockland and the first session took place in 2015.

Ms. Kettler credits much of the success of the program to Jeffrey Friedberg, a board-certified music therapist and NY State- licensed creative arts therapist, who leads the weekly sessions.  Mr. Friedberg has a long association with The Arc and runs his own music therapy practice —Music For Life Creative Art Therapy in Nyack.  He begins this particular session with a lesson in rhythm.  First, he sets a beat by hitting and then bouncing a rubber ball and encouraging participants to imitate the beat as they bounce the ball back to him, clap hands and use small drums.  Expanding the lesson, he then uses the syllables of words to create a beat--apple,  wa-ter-me-lon,--calling on individual participants (he knows them all by name) to provide the names of their favorite fruits.

When he says STOP or GO, the group makes an effort to do so in unison. “Musicians have to be really good listeners,” he tells them. Slowly, they get into the spirit of the rhythm and the group dynamic.  But the real surprise comes at the end of the session, when Mr. Friedberg invites individuals to come up to the microphone and perform. Eagerly, one participant pulls out his harmonica, walks up to the front of the room, and plays “You are My Sunshine” as Mr. Friedberg accompanies him on the guitar and others sing along.  Another, who had barely spoken until this point, rises to sing a Johnny Cash song, doing a very credible imitation of Cash’s voice.  A young woman, who had been giving encouragement to her fellow participants, performs a soulful rendering of “Lean on Me.”  Soon someone gets up to dance, and pulls others to their feet to join in.

The goals of these sessions include teaching a combination of music skills, social skills and cognitive skills, Mr. Friedberg explains.  “Music and social skills are often the same:  listening, following, being able to process what you hear and repeat it back.  But it’s also important for people to have fun.  For some who are inhibited or shy, I try to provide a safe space for self-expression.  For those who may have excess energy, I help them learn to control their bodies within the music.”

“I can see the difference these session make in the participants’ attitude and behavior,” notes Brian Conklin, a Community Specialist at The Arc Rockland who accompanies some of the participants each week.  “It definitely increases focus.  They are happier.  If someone is having a bad day, this really changes their mood.”

James Brown, the person who performed on the harmonica, is a case in point.  “I like this class.  It’s nice,” he says.  “I like playing the harmonica and it makes me feel good.”

“It’s important for all people to have opportunities for expression, creativity and acceptance,” adds Mr. Friedberg.  “Music gives them the chance to be themselves, to be part of a group, to hear the applause and feel that they have an accomplishment.  We all need that.”

Pictured: James Brown, left, with Jeffrey Friedberg.


Thank You to The Arc Rockland’s 2020 Corporate Sponsors: