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Melrose music therapy nonprofit on a roll

Posted by Travis Andersen  December 2, 2009 11:00 AM

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Everyone joins in at a Raising the Blues event.

In just its first year, the local nonprofit Raising the Blues has won two prestigious awards and helped over 500 children cope with medical hardships through a one-of-a-kind music therapy program.

"We focus on the blues," said Ruth Atherton, the group's founder and executive director. "It's actually a wonderful format for kids. It comes from who we are as Americans, and it represents our strength and ability to heal."

Atherton and her team of volunteers and professional musicians visit children's hospitals and other venues, leading workshops and playing concerts to help children get through what can often be a traumatic period of hospitalization and treatment.

"[Music therapy] can lower children's blood pressure," Atherton said.

She speaks from personal experience. Her 3-year-old son Natan worked with a music therapist at Children's Hospital Boston about a year and a half ago, when he was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder.

"After four days [in the hospital] the music therapist walked in with her guitar, and it was the first time that my son didn't cry [upon seeing hospital personnel]," Atherton said. "He sat right up and looked at her and said, 'Where's the pick?'"

In addition to the hospital visits, Raising the Blues also led a workshop last summer at Camp Sunshine, a facility in Maine that serves children with serious illnesses and their families. The group helped campers make 24 cigar box guitars, among other activities.

"[The kids] were incredible," she said.

National foundations have taken notice. The American Music Therapy Association presented its Advocate of Music Therapy Award to Raising the Blues last month at a ceremony in San Diego.

And the National Association of Music Makers (NAMM) Foundation awarded the group a $10,000 grant in May.

NAMM spokeswoman Kymberly Drake said in an e-mail that Raising the Blues is bringing joy to local youth.

"The NAMM Foundation believes that everyone benefits from expressing themselves through music and the young people touched by this program benefit from the very expressive genre of the Blues," Drake said.

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