TOPICS > Health

Soothing Sounds

July 8, 1998 at 12:00 AM EDT

JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight using music to soothe troubled souls. Betty Ann Bowser reports from Denver.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: On a peaceful summer evening down a tree-lined street the house looked big and inviting and music filled the air. (music) But the Colorado-based Da Vinci Quartet doesn’t always play to such comfortable audiences.

SPOKESPERSON: We’ll be talking a little bit about some of the issues that surround domestic violence and also about music and the lives that we all lead. (music in background)

BETTY ANN BOWSER: This year the award-winning female quartet used public and private funding to bring their music to very different audiences-victims of domestic violence, drug abusers, and troubled teens. With carefully chosen passages of calm, turbulent, and sometimes violent music, the quartet engaged its unlikely audience.

SPOKESPERSON: What does that make you think of when you hear music like that?

WOMAN: The way it sounds-music you would hear when you’re going to a place to hide or to hide away or a secret place.

DIFFERENT WOMAN IN AUDIENCE: To me it kind of sounded like it was pleading-like they were pleading or something.

ANOTHER WOMAN: You know, she’s got real sad, you know, because she had to run from a situation that was dangerous to her-

WOMAN IN AUDIENCE: Chaotic, then calm, and then pleading, and, you know, that’s what it felt like to me, and then tiredness.

SPOKESPERSON: (speaking to group) I wonder if you might hear that quality. This was kind of buried underneath the melody, but I think that’s what helps it feel that way.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Da Vinci members hope tapping into emotions will give these women one more way to address their problems. Cellist Katharine Knight.

KATHARINE KNIGHT, Cellist: These are people who are forced to confront their inner lives, something has gone terribly wrong for them, and perhaps because of their marginal situation, they latch onto it, that it becomes something that they can identify with, we can teach them certain things about themselves through it.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: It seemed to work for Joy, who was three months into her drug treatment at the Haven in Denver.

JOY: It was almost as if I could just talk about anything right then. It was neat because all these emotions and these feelings that I had, you know, while the music was playing , is stuff that I’m supposed to be talking about during my group. Of course, I don’t like remembering those feelings, but in part of my recovery I have to in order to get over it. (music in background)

KATHARINE KNIGHT: What we’re doing is opening an avenue for dialogue and for further self-reflection and we hope that the people that experience our programs can take what they learned from that and process it with whatever therapeutic help they can find.

KATHARINE KNIGHT: (speaking to audience) Probably most of you have come from dangerous or difficult or situations that are full of some kind of threat to you. So what I would like to suggest as we play this movement is that you take this music as an opportunity to imagine your own safe haven, your own safe place. (music in background)

BETTY ANN BOWSER: In its 18 years the quartet has won international competitions, recorded three CD’s, and established a solid following. But Knight says the group got this new idea from playing at emotional events like funerals and weddings, where people responded to their music in a much more personal way.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I just relaxed and felt forgiveness. It was real soothing. Then you kind of–it kind of shook me when you went up some, a tear came to my eye-and I thought, oh, maybe they’re going to get scary again-I’m serious. I really felt like that. But then you soothed back out.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: For Shanda, the music alternated between comforting passages and painful scenes from her past.

SHANDA: It’s the violence. It scared me, but then when they played the relaxing part, it soothed me. I felt like I was by myself and safe. I felt like I was relaxed. The violence part of the music, the drama, the base, and when-the bombing part-the violence was actually happening there-I could concentrate looking out the window and they were playing the instruments and could actually see the violence that was going on. And I could see myself running-the beating-the bass playing up-the bass mellowing down. Maybe they smooth out-he ran away for a minute-but then he came back to-breaking the glass to get back in. And it really made me seem like I was there.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: The quartet also tries to move women beyond talking about their past. At the Arapaho House, a drug treatment facility for families, music like this piece by Gwyneth Walker was used to empower a group of mothers.

KATHARINE KNIGHT: (speaking to group) One of the reasons I really enjoy this piece is because it’s an example of the woman who is so secure being taken seriously that she can afford to have some fun and to be humorous about what she does and to maybe not be quite so serious about herself.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: And there was the more serious work by Fanny Mendelssohn.

KATHARINE KNIGHT: (speaking to group) This is a piece that was not published in her lifetime. It’s the first movement of a string quartet, and we think that it says a lot to us about the dreams and the persistence and her following her own sense of inner strength in this piece.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: The program featured female composers, women who worked in a male-dominated profession but overcame the odds. (music in background) Their message struck a chord.

YOUNG UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: It brought out the point that, yes, women can make it, a lot are still pressured and outnumbered by men and the jobs for men. It just goes to show, though, that women can do it and with talent as well.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Is that a positive message for you?

DIFFERENT WOMAN: Oh, yes, yes, because a lot of times, you know, being an alcoholic, you get discouraged, and you don’t–your self-esteem is low-mine was very low, and sometimes just little positive things like that encourage you to just want to keep going. (music in background)

BETTY ANN BOWSER: For now, the quartet season is winding down, but this summer will be a challenge as the musicians search for new funds to continue their program of playing for a purpose.