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for The Brooklyn Paper
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Dr. Diane Austin rubbed her hands together and placed them on her throat. “Eeeeeeeeeee. Can you feel the vibration? Because we’re an instrument, too,” she said.

In a circle, 10 adult men and women sat imitating her sounds, fingers pressed on their necks, enraptured by their similarity to a classical instrument.

Austin, a senior faculty member at New York University, heads the Brooklyn Philharmonic’s pilot music therapy program at Maimonides Hospital in Borough Park, and the participants are patients in the hospital’s psychiatric out-patient facility.

The unique program combines the skills of professional musicians with the expertise of music therapists to provide a new mode for patients to communicate through.

“It’s a different way to talk about things,” said Austin. “People sing things they wouldn’t normally say. The deep breathing brings oxygen to the brain and into the body and the viola integrates the senses with the body.”

The viola was Austin’s first choice to accompany her lessons and Philharmonic violist Kerrick Sasaki understands why. “There is something about the viola in that middle range that is sort of human,” Sasaki said. “It’s a little introverted and it doesn’t stick out. It’s a sound that just surrounds you a little bit more and draws you out.”

The Philharmonic secured funding to carry out the pilot program for four weeks this summer. After that, said Vice President Greg Pierson, the group hopes to find new sponsors.

“It’s always easier to get funding once we have results established,” said Pierson. “Then we know we’re filling a need.”

Austin handed out instruments to the group and sounds of clackers, chimes and drumsticks filled the room. Sasaki played “Lean on Me,” and the viola’s soothing sound quieted the patients. Austin then began to sing, and the group chimed in.

Afterwards, Austin used the song’s theme to discuss whom patients lean on. Some said church, others friends or family. During another song patients sang about what they are going to “throw over the edge” and rid from their lives. The answers range from exhaustion and nervousness to depression and problems with their teeth.

Sara Gold, a Maimonides psychotherapist, hopes music therapy will become a permanent staple at the hospital. “It really transforms people,” she said.

Music therapy compliments patients’ medical treatment by looking at the person holistically, whereas doctors, nurses and pathologists tend to analyze deficits.

“The healthy parts of a person really come out,” said Austin. “Where doctors see illness and diagnoses, we see a sense of humor. These are disempowered people and there is something powerful about being heard and getting validation. ”

For information, visit www.brooklynphilharm... or www.dianeaustin.com.

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