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Conservatory's Music Therapy Institute Celebrates 25 Years

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- Tina Brescia and Lisa Sandagata, who co-direct the Music Therapy Institute headquartered in White Plains, said they were eager to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Music Conservatory of Westchester’s organization at the C.V. Rich Mansion alongside 200 supporters Friday.

Brescia began directing the music therapy programs held in the conservatory shortly after Sept. 11, 2001 when her predecessor left to coordinate a relief effort in New York City.

“She asked me to go in as a temp for her, and I never left. It’s perfect,” said Brescia, a Connecticut resident. “When I came on board 11 years ago, I think there were 8 people in the onsite program. Now it’s close to 80. We’re just amazed by it. It’s mostly been from word of mouth that people call us, so we feel like we’re a presence in the community.”

The Friday night gala honored Marsha Gordon, the president and CEO of the Business Council of Westchester, for her commitment to the arts and Alan Katz, a conservatory board member since 1997, for his dedication to the Music Conservatory. The Don DuPont Big Band and alumni from the therapy institute provided entertainment.

Music therapy provides a unique outlet for many of its students, which range from children with developmental disabilities or other special needs through generations of music lovers to seniors suffering from Alzheimer's.

“A lot of these people often have speech or language delays, so music becomes a way for them to communicate and connect with others that’s easy, and usually, joyful. It motivates them,” Brescia said.

Sessions at the conservatory are tailored for each individual to incorporate sounds or instruments that appeal to the student.

Lisa Sandagata, who directs the institute’s outreach services, brings therapy sessions to 53 schools, nursing homes, senior centers and other sites by partnering with 16 agencies. The institute collectively serves approximately 2,000 people.

“Over the course of the 25 years, we’ve seen 25,000 people. There’s a good percentage of people who began to work with us in 1986, who are still with us,” said Sandagata, who began working at the conservatory as an intern 23 years ago. “It feels like a milestone.”

Sandagata credits the growth to the caliber of the conservatory’s eight instructors as well as shifting views on music therapy.

“I have to sell music therapy less and less each time and with each year that passes because it’s become more prevalent,” said Sandagata, an Ossining resident.

The gala also doubled as a fundraiser for the institute, which lost 50 percent of its county government funding this year.

“We’re here to celebrate, but also because funding is an issue. Families need scholarships. Programs need support,” Sandagata said. “The good news is that we’ve made people aware of the needs not just for funding, but the needs for the service and how effective it is in treating a whole person.”

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