Yampa Valley Autism Program, Horizons and Emerald City Opera host workshops incorporating therapy with song | SteamboatToday.com

Yampa Valley Autism Program, Horizons and Emerald City Opera host workshops incorporating therapy with song

Liz Forster

Dean Adler takes part in a joint workshop put on by Emerald City Opera in collaboration with Horizons Specialized Services and the Yampa Valley Autism Program to provide voice training to people with developmental disabilities. The idea is that singing is a tool adapted for each individual to increase self-awareness and learning and to create a place of safety as well as personal and emotional growth.

— On Tuesday morning, 20 clients of the Yampa Valley Autism Program and Horizons Specialized Services were introduced to a form of spiritual psychotherapy. Dan Comstock, owner of the Center for Attitudinal Healing and the Arts in Missoula, Montana, facilitates such healing in one of the most universal forms: song.

"The artistic process, in this case singing, encourages people to explore and begin to understand themselves," said Comstock, who works as a voice coach in conjunction with a psychologist in Missoula. "It releases fear and judgment and teaches people how to find inner peace."

This first-ever collaborative effort between the Yampa Valley Autism Program, Horizons and Emerald City Opera was spearheaded by Jack Dysart, CEO of the Emerald City Opera and a member of the Yampa Valley Autism Program board of directors.

He and Comstock have sung together for over 40 years, and he knew that Comstock’s techniques could benefit both the people receiving services from Horizons and the Yampa Valley Autism Program and their counselors.

"We don’t have a lot of opportunities for the people we work with to perform and sing," Horizons Executive Director Susan Mizen said. "Knowing that we have people in our program who really enjoy that, this is a great chance to offer them that kind of experience while building their relationships with the counselors."

The workshop, held at Colorado Mountain College, consisted of two days. The first was exclusively for counselors, teaching them how to employ the posture, breathing and singing techniques to connect and unify themselves with their clients.

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During the session, Comstock also taught the counselors how they could understand the way music facilitates their relationships with the persons receiving service.

"The idea behind my practices is for people to think about how, if they’re really connecting with their client, they are not just listening to reply but are listening to what they're (their clients are) singing empathetically," Comstock said. "In other words, if the first goal is to provide a safe place built around trust, then their willingness and ability to learn increases."

During the second day, the people receiving service joined their counselors to learn rhythm, melody, breathing, posture and group synergy under Comstock’s and Dysart’s direction.

"Each person has their individual sound,” said Comstock to the group during an exercise. “The wonderful part is that, while we can all have our own voice, we are easily able to come back together as a single sound growing together."

Mizen explained that these types of exercises and relationships help promote confidence, which in turn helps people find what they are passionate about.

"Dan uses voice as a way to teach the counselors how to effectively listen in order to get in touch with how people are feeling and how confident they are," Mizen said. "When the people we work with develop confidence, they can be more aware of their emotions and figure out what is important to them."

For some of the participants in the workshop, that passion is manifested in Horizons’ annual version of American Idol, Milestones Idol, at the Chief Theater.

"Everyone wants to get up on stage during Milestones Idol,” Mizen said. "This vocal workshop would be a way for them to do something similar and make Milestones Idol next year bigger and better than before."

For more information on Dan Comstock, visit http://dcomstock.com.

To reach Liz Forster, call 970-871-4374, email lforster@SteamboatToday.com or follow her on Twitter @LizMForster

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