Empowering lives through music in Ventura

by Alison Oatman

JAB gets his toddlers to wiggle with excitement to the rousing nursery rhymes he sings as he strums his guitar. To the pleasure of their mothers, the colony of two-year-olds in the room hops ecstatically from lily pad to lily pad, inspired by the colorful mats and the music. This is fun but it’s also a lesson in identifying both colors and animals. “Jump on the blue fish! Now, the green owl! And now, the brown shell!” JAB sings at regular intervals.

“Pick out two scarves,” JAB says, holding open a magic bag full of colorful squares of fabric. One by one, they each extract a couple of scarves. “The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round,” he croons. The excited kids gesticulate, whipping their scarves into a vibrant blur. And then JAB tapers off to a whisper: “The mommies on the bus go shh-shh-shh, shh-shh-shh, shh-shh-shh.” The kids look up, open-mouthed and spellbound by the sudden change in volume.

In their first sixteen months, infants learn to roll over, sit up, crawl and walk—a triumph of gross motor skills that movement to the song “Wheels on the Bus” underscores. Eventually, these tots will be able to catch a ball, climb, and play tag. The waving motions also strengthen the small muscles in their hands, wrists and fingers, so that the kids can soon color and write.

JAB scours his young audience, so he can make sure each kid is at the appropriate place developmentally. How is their speech? How is their ability to count? Do they make eye contact? Do they observe boundaries? His practiced eye gauges their approximate level.

JAB—who is a certified music therapist as well as a professional musician and a composer with more than twenty years of experience under his belt—gets “in tune” with his client to invoke a healing response. He recently sang “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” to an eighty-year-old woman who had been diagnosed with dementia three years before. “I’m sorry my brain isn’t better,” she told him at their first meeting. “I’m here to help you keep what you have and hopefully turn it up a notch,” JAB replied.

The first thing that JAB noticed about her house was the large collection of African art she and her husband had amassed over the years. He took out a small drum and asked her to hit it as he placed it at different nearby angles. At the next session, he introduced a West African drum called the djembe. She smacked it with her bare hands, matching exactly the therapist’s series of different rhythms, rediscovering a creative outlet that had been closed off to her since she had ceased playing the piano two years before.

JAB also does music therapy with people who suffer from addiction disorders, chronic depression and bipolar disorder.

Everyone has their own personal soundtrack: music and words that speak to them and make them feel fully alive. Certified music therapy is relatively new territory to Ventura County, and JAB is one of the few trailblazers bringing essential services to our region’s very underserved population. Under his artful expertise, music truly works magic as it empowers lives.

To find out more visit empoweringlivesthroughmusic.com.

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