Pioneer of Rhythm-Based Music Therapy Dies
by Alyssa Janney
How do you measure a life? Martin Luther King, Jr. detailed in his book The Measure of a Man how chemists had determined that the physical composition of a man was worth about 98 cents in the free market at that time. (King, M.L 1959) But can the measure of a life be determined from its market value? Or is the true measure of a man measured in something less tangible?
Jonathan D. Larson attempted to address this question in his hit song Seasons of Love from the musical RENT. This question of measuring a life is a question I’ve been pondering since I received the sad news that our dear friend Barry Bernstein passed away on August 26th in his home in Kansas. It is very tempting at times like these to create a list of reasons why one is sorry a loved one has passed on. However, in the tradition of a man who spent much of his more than 28,900,600 minutes of life trying to make people smile, let’s take a look at a few of the reasons why those who knew Barry Bernstein are thankful he LIVED!
My first recollection of Barry was during my first months at Remo when he called me to order a drum. It couldn’t just be ANY drum, it had to be a custom one made with his infectious smiley face fabric! I recall feeling his smile beam through the telephone as he chuckled telling me how “the kids really light up when they see them”. He didn’t want the kids he worked with to ONLY be smiling on the inside from the warmth, devotion and skill with which he facilitated better learning and emotional outcomes. He wanted them to SMILE ALL OVER, just like his special drums. So perhaps the best way I can honor his contributions is by joining his Celebration of LIFE! COMMUNITY! & RHYTHM!
Author and Arizona State Director of Music Therapy, Barbara Crowe, MMT,MT-BC recalls first meeting Barry at the US Senate Committee on Aging Hearing, on music and the elderly in August, 1991. “Barry Bernstein, Alicia Clair, and Gary Johnson had been conducting research on rhythm playing characteristics of the elderly and had developed new music therapy approaches that came to be known as ‘Rhythm-based Music Therapy’. Barry created cognitively stimulating rhythm interventions for patients with Alzheimer’s, and pushed us to re-think what we teach music therapy students.” This brilliant pioneer in the field of music therapy could have used his gifts for self-promotion. He could have used his innovation to seek financial success in business. But he spent his energy to make people smile and experience life more fully.
In 1991 he co-founded Rhythm for Life with Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead, Remo Belli, Barbara Crowe, Karl Bruhn, Arthur Hull & Andrea Farbman and served as its Program Director for five years. Rhythm for Life explored the healing properties of percussion music. Mickey Hart responded to the news of Bernstein’s passing saying “when he played he brought the world of 'YES I CAN' into every groove he was a part of. He was meant to reach the children and he was one of the best at it. He was a happy man who played a happy drum…”
Unity With A Beat! programs have been featured in publications all around the world including, U.S. News & World Report, and The New York Times. This program was created by Bernstein in 1995 for the purpose of allowing participants to experience teambuilding and communication in a non-threatening, interactive and entertaining manner. But I’m not sure if he even imagined the incredible impact this program would have on the personal lives of people such as Shari & Rajan Krishnan. Shari credits Bernstein with teaching them a way, through rhythm and percussion, to rediscover the son they thought they’d lost to autism. ”There was a time when we felt absolutely helpless, quickly losing our stores of hope, when it came to working with our son, Nicholas, who was newly diagnosed with autism. Barry brought us information, happiness, and renewed hope. His intellect, enthusiasm, and huge gift for healing our broken hearts will never be forgotten.”
As the founder of Healthy Sounds consulting service, Bernstein was dedicated to spreading the word about the power of music and rhythm. He also served as a music therapy consultant for the Blue Valley School District in Overland Park, Kansas. But he was not only a gifted music therapist for 30 years who is renowned for his work with children, the elderly and veterans. He was also an author. In fact he recently co-authored a book which was donated to the American Music Therapy Association, with music therapists Barbara Crowe & Barbara Reuer titled Group Rhythm and Drumming with Older Adults: Music Therapy Techniques and Multimedia Training Guide. The publication was sponsored by West Music and Remo, Inc. “Most of the CORE 'activities' which we use to this day, were created by Barry” remembers Barbara Reuer, PhD, MT-BC. “I will really miss him. It breaks my heart to have a friend and such a talented person leave us in the prime of his life".
Remo Belli, Founder and CEO of Remo, Inc. where Bernstein held “Artist” status echoed the thoughts of so many saying “Barry was a great human being and a great benefactor who helped establish the whole idea of music therapy.”
So what is the measure of a man? Most of us would pay more than 98 cents for the exhilaration of a morning cup of coffee. We’d pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars for the comfort of a business class airline seat lasting a few hours in duration. We’d pay a million or more to save the life of one of our own children. So how do we measure the man Barry Bernstein? If we measure him by the comfort he provided so many, by the innovation he created in his profession, by the selfless way he gave of himself for the benefit of others, or even merely by the smiles he brought to all our faces…then we’d have to say the measure of the man Barry Bernstein….is PRICELESS!
In lieu of flowers, please make donations on behalf of Barry to the Barry Bernstein Education Fund, c/o Healthy Sounds, PO Box 40304, Overland Park, KS 66204. Condolences may be shared with the family at www.kccremation.com
Article in Kansas City Star
Remembering Barry Bernstein
I was very sad to be informed of the passing of Barry Bernstein. Barry was a great human being and a great benefactor who helped establish the whole idea of music therapy. He will be missed.
Remo D. Belli
I first met Barry Bernstein at the US Senate Committee on Aging hearing on music and the elderly in August, 1991. He, Alicia Clair, and Gary Johnson had been conducting research on rhythm playing characteristics of the elderly and had developed new music therapy approaches that come to be known as Rhythm-based Music Therapy. His opening greeting to me (the then president of NAMT) was, “Why do we still teach boring rhythm-band activities to students. There's so much more that we can do with elderly clients.” I quickly found out what he meant. Barry created those activity interventions we now call Rhythm-based Music Therapy and was instrumental in bringing drum circles into music therapy.
I worked closely with Barry during the 1990¹s first on the infamous Marin County, Mickey Hart drum circle event, then on the Rhythm for Life Project, on two grant funded projects, on a week-long demonstration project at Niagara Falls, and on numerous conference sessions and CMTE workshops. Barry's work changed music therapy for the better. He brought more active rhythm-based interventions into our practice, contributed to our research base, showed that patient¹s with Alzheimer¹s disease can learn and participate, and facilitated music therapist's training in percussion techniques. Can we even conceive of an AMTA conference without a drum circle now? Barry introduced Arthur Hull to us. Do we use cognitively stimulating rhythm interventions with patients with Alzheimer’s? Barry created them. Have we changed how we educate music therapy students? Barry pushed us to re-think what we teach.
Barry was an invaluable colleague to me but he was much more. He was my dear friend. He made me laugh and he made me frustrated at times. He was always pushing and challenging but he always had your back. Barry was boundless energy as we saw when he facilitated drum circles. And he was a hard worker. He could accomplish more in a day than I could in a week. I miss him terribly. I have lost a great friend and music therapy has lost an innovator, a driving force. He will be missed.
Barbara J. Crowe, MMT, MT-BC
Arizona State University
Barry Bernstein was a pioneer who made significant contributions to the field of music therapy. He has touched many lives with his caring soul and passion for music. It was a privilege to know him. I will always remember his kindred spirit.
Steve West, Chairman
West Music Company
I met Barry around 1993 or 94. I was introduced to him by our former Marketing Director. I had no clue who Barry was. When he told me he was into Music and Rhythm, I said “Cool”. One of the things that I admired about Barry was he was a great listener. I told him what I do for Remo Inc. he found it quite fascinating. We had a mutual respect for each other. As Drum Circles started to increase in popularity, I had a chance to see Barry facilitate one…..WOW!!!!
I really enjoyed how he got so many people involved in the circle by his humbleness. Barry had a Gentle Soul that could connect with anyone…..and that’s without the drum. Barry had a gift that comes through the rhythm, spirit and the drum. Either through Rhythm of Life, his work with special needs people or through his percussive ideas, you can feel the essences of Barry. Barry is still here, he will always live on in my life.
Marketing Promotions Manager
Barry Bernstein's legend found renewal in Las Vegas, Nevada through a new program called SOULifters - trained musicians supervised by music therapists - that merged his creative music-making activates with Dr. Barbara Reuer's innovative Joygiver program. We are forever grateful for his eternal contributions to the music therapy profession.
Judith Pinkerton, MT-BC
Music4Life / Center for Creative Therapeutic Arts
Las Vegas, NV
Barry Bernstein brought a depth of knowledge and joy to his work, an infectious combination that served so many throughout his too-short career. Veterans and children alike benefited from his wonderful sense of play and exploration. My conversations with Barry were always for the sparkle of possibility. I will miss the opportunity to share that with him as I know so many others will.
I immediately thought of the phenomenal book (can be found on the AMTA website for purchase) that was donated to AMTA to raise funds for the organization in the name of Music Therapy by Barry, Barbara Crowe and Barbara Reuer to promote music making and drumming with individuals who are musicians, music therapists and volunteers in drumming alike. A phenomenal work that walks people through 12 weeks of activities that are creative, fun and allows for self expression. This piece of work may be used with many many diverse settings and populations. This is just the tip of the iceberg of the vast impact he has made on our profession. He will be deeply missed. He gave us a Rhythm for Life.
Helen G. Dolas M.S., MT-BC
Arts & Services for Disabled, Inc.
Long Beach, CA
Barry Bernstein was a pioneer of Rhythm for Life and one of the first music therapists to reach out to the drum industry and professional drummers to collaborate for music therapy goals. A dear friend, inspiration, and wealth of energy!
Christine Stevens, MSW, MA, MT-BC
Upbeat Drum Circles
Barry was passionate about drumming and using a variety of drumming interventions in music therapy practice. He was instrumental in introducing drumming to many colleges and universities in the 1990's. He did many, many training sessions. I believe REMO was instrumental in making this happen. He loved making music and bringing music making to the community -- as you can see with the photos in the KC.com.
In our AOA grant, Barry served as the consultant. Most of the CORE "activities" which we use to this day and perhaps even more now that the book ("Group Rhythm and Drumming with Older Adults: Music Therapy Techniques and Multimedia Training Guide") has been published by AMTA, were created by Barry. That is such a HUGE contribution. Music therapists and now my Joy Givers learn these CORE activities and then vary them 100 different ways. BUT it is important to have the core down.
I will really miss him. It breaks my heart to have a friend and such a talented person leave us in the prime of his life.
Barbara L. Reuer, PhD, MT-BC
San Diego, CA
Barry's passing is a major loss to the world of rhythm as a tool for wellness and happiness. When he played he brought the world of "yes I can" into every groove he was a part of. He was meant to reach the children and he was one of the best at it. he was a happy man who played a happy drum and who will be playing that drum as he passes the pearly gates and beyond looking for more young souls to play drums with...you're in good hands Barry, the gods love drummers!!!!
Bon Voyage Barry!!!
Barry Bernstein's mended our broken hearts!
There was a time when we felt very absolutely helpless, quickly losing our stores of hope, when it came to working with our son, Nicholas, who was newly diagnosed with autism. At 18 months old, Nicholas appeared to lose more and more of his language and increasingly lost his ability to gaze at anyone around him. By age 2, Nicholas regressed so much, it was as if we had another son in our household.
We were working tirelessly, trying to reach and teach our sweet beautiful toddler. But, after many months of feeling like we tried everything to "save" Nicholas, we hit a wall. The things that appeared to work for other children just didn't work for Nicholas. We craved to "talk" with him. We yearned to have him at least turn around when we called his name.
Then someone at my graduate school handed me some information on Barry's Rhythm for Life and Unity With A Beat Weekends. Something just told me that, "If drums could communicate, so could my son!"
I contacted Barry, and his ongoing support at the time was selfless. He encouraged my husband, Rajan and me to attend one of the Workshops that would be held at the Naropa University in Colorado. We agreed with Barry's thoughts and immediately packed our bags and jumped on a plane to Boulder.
Little did Rajan and I know that all of Barry's thoughtful recommendations for helping Nicholas with rhythm would also be so healing for us! That weekend with Barry, Arthur Hull, Ganesh Lee Veal, and Mickey Hart brought a sense of peace, direction, and much needed joy. It was as if we could breathe again.
When Rajan and I returned home from the Unity with A Beat Weekend, as a family, we shared what we had learned with Nicholas. Rajan and I could smile and play with him, as our sweet son, fully accepting all of the changes within him; instead of "working" with him, as if he was a patient that needed to be healed and fixed.
Within days, when we'd tap, Nicholas would tap back. Tap tap tap. Tap tap tap, in return with those tiny hands. He would raise his head, glancing at us for the next beat. And our tears from who we thought we had lost, turned into to tears of join for the boy we learned to rediscover.
Nicholas is now a high school senior, with many friends, thanks to his percussion influence. He drums in the community, is a member of a world drumming percussion group, and plays the marimba and xylophone with his high school marching band. After leaving high school next year, world drumming will continue to be a huge influence in his plans to transition to adulthood.
Barry brought us information, happiness, and renewed hope. His intellect, enthusiasm, and huge gift for healing our broken hearts will never be forgotten.
Thank you, Barry.
Shari, Rajan, and Nicholas Krishnan
If you knew Barry and would like to add your own tribute, please email HealthRHYTHMS@remo.com