Body and Soul

An innovative music studio helps people with physical disabilities – employing creativity as therapy.

Residents with debilitating physical diseases at the Grabski Center in Migdal Ha’emek participate in music therapy with state-of-the-art technology (photo credit: GRABSKI CENTER)
Residents with debilitating physical diseases at the Grabski Center in Migdal Ha’emek participate in music therapy with state-of-the-art technology
(photo credit: GRABSKI CENTER)
With soundproof foam squares covering the walls and ceiling, electronic keyboards connected to flatscreen computers, microphones on their stands, speakers hanging, and percussion instruments organized neatly on a row of shelves, the new music room in the basement of the Grabski Center in the Jezreel Valley town of Migdal Ha’emek looks like a standard modern music recording studio.
It is anything but typical.
The newly built and recently inaugurated studio, utilized for music therapies, is a one-of-a-kind, state-of-the-art facility utilizing up-to-the-minute technologies specifically designed for use by Grabski’s population – young adults suffering from a slew of degenerative motor neuron diseases, including cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis or other debilitating bodily traumas.
The therapeutic studio consists of eight music stations constructed to accommodate the residents’ specific level of motor functioning, allowing them to compose their own musical scores, transmitting wirelessly with a wave of the finger or, amazingly, with the thoughts going through their minds.
The Jerusalem Post Magazine was recently given a tour of the Grabski Center, with a prime focus on the new therapeutic music studio, accompanied by former Israeli ambassador to Azerbaijan Rafael Harpaz and his wife, Shuli. The Harpazes were the main facilitators in securing private donations for the construction of the studio.
According to Grabski director Kobi Vizel, the multistory residential facility, which opened its doors 12 years ago, is the full-time home to 40 diverse residents, mostly from the North, who are in various stages of their physically incapacitating disease. Vizel says an additional 15 Israelis take advantage of the center’s daytime rehabilitation and cultural programming.
He says that the mission of the facility, which is staffed by 65 dedicated employees, including doctors, nurses and therapists over a broad range of disciplines, “is to give these individuals a reason to wake up in the morning. It is so difficult with a population that is cognitively in good shape but limited physically. Our goal is to add to their quality of life.”
That goal is in line with the mission of the Colel Chabad organization – the oldest continuously operating charity in Israel, founded in 1788 – under whose auspices Grabski operates. Vizel says a similar residential facility will be opening its doors in Jerusalem in the near future.
AFTER EXPLORING the other sections of the building and meeting with residents engaged in a wide selection of activities and therapies, we are led down a staircase whose walls are painted in hues of calming blue, and dotted with black musical notes, and are greeted in the studio by Dor Azriel, with his hip-looking, almost “rocker” clothes, sunglasses and a full goatee.
A well-known music producer and director of Thalamus Multimedia, which, according to its website, employs human sciences, especially psychology, in the development of multimedia systems, Azriel, together with his team, was charged with the design and construction of the facility. They currently oversee its operations and upkeep on a volunteer basis.
Azriel demonstrates some of the studio’s capabilities.
At one station, residents can create specific sounds or unique notes of music by passing a small, table-tennis- sized paddle through colored beams of light projected from the ceiling to the floor, each of which corresponds to a different note. The resulting musical arrangement appears and is recorded on a computer screen for playback and editing.
Another station is designed for residents who are unable to grip a paddle.
Using a series of wireless sensors, participants can create sounds through small movements of their fingers, feet or other body parts. The sounds are recorded and edited into their own musical compositions.
At one of the most advanced and innovative stations, a resident with little or no mobility can put on electroencephalography (EEG) headgear that records the electric signals produced when the brain is at work. The headgear is wirelessly connected to a computer, allowing participants to simply “think” the music they want to express, which is recorded and stored.
Yemima Goldenberg is Grabski’s energetic director of activities and treatment services. She is extremely excited about the potential the new studio has in adding to the quality of life of the residents.
“I believe that everyone has a song,” she says.
“Nothing makes you happier than music,” she adds. “We thank God with music in our prayers. When a person’s body doesn’t work, there is still the heart and the soul. It’s music that touches the soul.”
Goldenberg says the music therapy staff has been designing specific programs for each of the residents based on functionality.
“Not everyone could play the piano, drums or harp, but now, with this technology, they can play and it adds to happiness and satisfaction,” she says.
AZRIEL FEELS that music is the perfect tool for self-expression.
“There is happy music [and] sad music,” he explains. “The people can express themselves and their feelings here.”
He adds that in addition to the emotional and mental benefits of the studio, the physical benefits shouldn’t be overlooked.
“The music stations all of a sudden give a person something to touch,” he says.
“We have a program here,” he says, by way of example, “where the goal is for someone to create music by making a certain number of specific movements a certain number of times – let’s say 100 times. The program lets them know they’ve hit their target in repetitions.
What we’re doing is actually part of physical therapy.”
Azriel adds that he commutes to Migdal Ha’emek from the center of the country twice a week to spend time working in the studio – again, completely as a volunteer, since he views working with this population as a labor of love.
Following the studio tour, an emotional ceremony was held with all of the residents of the Grabski Center to thank the Harpaz family for helping make the studio a reality. Several of the residents had the opportunity to thank the couple personally, while one gentleman’s remarks stood out.
“Thank you,” he said. “I love music.
Music fills my soul. Music is my life.”