Stories from the brainreels guests: The Backstrokes

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[The podcast audio is at the bottom of this post.]

Have I got a treat this month! It’s my newest obsession, community music group The Backstrokes. Most members have aphasia, a language impairment from stroke or brain injury. The overarching work is building community, honoring people’s identities, having fun, and making some damn fine music. Though we didn’t have the most ideal microphone set up, we got a pretty decent recording of some songs. You’ll hear some pieces throughout the podcast episode. Thank you, Todd Kelley, for your generous support in recording the music.

A small, scruffy, apricot-colored terrier sits next to a blond smiling woman. She holds a banjolele.Here is one of The Backstrokes members, Bruther, posing next to Jody Turner and her banjolele. You’ll hear Jody and hear me talking to Bruther in the podcast. [Bruther is a small, scruffy, apricot-colored terrier sitting on a chair next to a blond smiling woman.]

You can find technical stuff and information about music therapy and how music helps heal the brain or improve communication. That’s not all you’re going to get on today’s podcast. Today, when you do hear about healing, it won’t be filtered through the perspective of experts and clinicians. It’s first-hand from the people in The Backstrokes, some of whom have aphasia and some of whom don’t.

I like to distinguish between art therapies for people with disabilities and art by people with disabilities, which might be therapeutic or restorative. There’s a mistaken belief that if you acquire impairments, the only things you do until you’re “better” are rehabilitation practices. Sometimes we like to do stuff because we’re people, and people like to do stuff. Disabled people make art for all the same reasons non-disabled people do. Sure, some of us might have more emphasis on rehab or therapy, but some people think all disability art is rehab. That limits the view of what we can accomplish, why we do what we do, and how we are still whole, complex people. It also makes it sound like we have to always have licensed healthcare providers involved in what we do. We don’t!

Check out this article about the Hayward, California stroke recovery music group Aphasia Tones. Sadly, the article starts with a description of someone having a stroke. I get that most journalism does that, wants to start everything off with the ooey-gooey details of disability and then some stats. What’s great is the article does have plenty of quotations from people with aphasia.

Other choirs and music groups for people with aphasia include one in Burlington, VT, started by a speech therapist with a music background. There’s also one in Lubbock, TX. I chose to not link to it because all the articles I could find had gross language like “battling aphasia” and “afflicted” and calling the aphasia choir concert “special” and “touching.” Blech. Just trust that there’s one there and at least one in the UK.

Join in at either or both of the wheelchair accessible spaces on bus lines to sing and make music with The Backstrokes! All are welcome.

Mondays 11:30 am – 12:30 pm
Day Theater
5516 SE Foster Rd, Portland, OR 97206
Thursdays 11:00 am – 12:00 pm and 12:30 – 1:30 pm
5441 SE Belmont St, Portland, OR 97215
Donations are voluntary and happily accepted to help cover the cost of space rentals.
Contact Director Anne Tillinghast for information or to learn more about music sessions she and Keith Parkhurst provide through Sonic Tonic Music Groups. Those sessions are held in skilled nursing facilities and care centers to bring fun, joy, music, and community into settings that are often lacking in boisterous visitors and group singing.