|Lauren Haas Amanfoh at Royalton Music Center|
Lauren’s mother, Sheri Eleck-Haas, began the music therapy program at RMC fifteen years ago. At the time, Sheri was the second-generation owner of the family business and greatly believed in the value and proven benefits of music therapy programs. She recognized that through music therapy and the application of musical methods, many clients with disabilities were able to achieve other life-changing goals as well. For example, songs help Alzheimer’s patients recall memories. Other participants who may have never spoken before utter their first words through singing. Lauren emphasized that music therapy is so powerful because the goals are not just musical – the changes affect the lives of participants and their families – which Lauren witnessed first-hand recently. In 2009, Lauren’s mother, Sheri, was fighting breast cancer and receiving inpatient treatment at the Cleveland Clinic, ultimately unable to sit-up or talk because of her condition. She was in constant pain, for which she was connected to a pain pump machine to receive pain medication, and constant oxygen. Lauren remembered coming into the room to visit her mother at the hospital one day, and she could not believe her eyes: her mother was sitting with a music therapist – sitting up by herself in a chair – and singing Barbara Streisand songs. Sheri always loved music, so music therapy was extremely beneficial to her personally, psychologically, and physically. After this particular session, Lauren recalled that her mother was free of pain for 30 to 45 minutes. Lauren said, “I always believed in music therapy, but seeing its effect with my own eyes, with my own mother, was unbelievable.” She mentioned that she had seen the changes with other clients, but stated, “Seeing it work for my mother reaffirmed my beliefs and devotion to music therapy because it made a difference for my mother when nothing else did. It really was life-changing.”
Sadly, Lauren’s mother passed away later that year on Christmas Day, but Lauren is grateful that her mother was able to personally benefit from a program that was so meaningful to her. The music therapy program at Royalton Music began with one client, and the store’s program now serves about 35 to 40 clients per month. RMC works with three music therapists: one for adults with brain trauma, and two for children with conditions such as Down Syndrome, Autism, and speech delay. All three therapists are board certified and offer 30, 45, and 60-minute sessions. Program sessions are offered on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday, and as Lauren shared, “the therapists get booked up pretty quickly!” She says that the program is not heavily promoted, but rather has grown “organically” (by advertising on their website, in the store, and by word-of-mouth). Participants also have the opportunity to cover costs through funding subsidized by the county – similar to flex spending offered by some medical insurance plans.
Participants in RMC’s music therapy program enjoy sessions in a dedicated music therapy room at the store. This space is equipped with a piano and other traditional instruments as well as adaptive instruments (including guitars, keyboards, and percussion instruments). Those in the program also have the opportunity to perform in recitals, much like students in Royalton’s private lesson program. Recently, music therapy and private lesson students performed on integrated recitals, which Lauren said have been very well-received.
Royalton Music’s support of music therapy programs is not limited to their own space, however. Lauren shared that she works with other programs in terms of sponsorship and instrument/equipment donations. Recently, she had the opportunity to assist a college student travelling to Ghana – which also happens to be Lauren’s husband’s home country. Lauren told us that the students in Ghana had so few material goods but were so happy simply to have “$1 kazoos” from Royalton Music. “Seeing a group of children with these simple kazoos with our logo stamped on them -- happy and making music – brought me to tears,” she said.
Royalton Music Center’s music therapy program is one of several educational offerings at the store. Lauren explained that there is “the educational side of the store and the retail side of the store.” On the retail side, they have grown and expanded, offering sales, rentals, and displaying at trade shows throughout the country. On the educational side, there are programs for everyone. Royalton Music offers The Music Class for infants to 5-year-old children who attend with their parents. This particular program is now offered seven times a week. In addition to their private lesson program which is comprised of over 40 instructors who teach more than 600 students each week, Royalton Music also provides group lessons, summer music camps, and ensembles – including a jazz band, rock band, a Montessori-based wind band, group guitar, and group ukelele. One of Royalton’s latest summer offerings is an “originals” rock camp where students write and record their own music in a professional music studio. We can only imagine how many lives have been enriched by their programs. This remarkable family business will undoubtedly thrive as it approaches its 50th anniversary in 2014, bringing music into the lives of those who seek it – and those who may once have considered it only a dream, but never a reality.