For an hour each Wednesday evening in Duxbury, Eve Montague coaxes a symphony of sound from Community Voices, the chorus for “singers of all abilities” — many with autism and cerebral palsy — that she formed 10 years ago as director of creative arts therapies at South Shore Conservatory.
Community Voices has grown so popular that a Community Voices, Too! now meets weekly at Laura’s Center for the Arts at the South Shore YMCA in Hanover.
“I think we all need to belong and have that sense of creating something together, and I think music offers that perfect opportunity,” Montague said. “There is really no wrong way to participate, no wrong note.”
Both choruses will perform free holiday concerts on Wednesday, Dec. 11, at 7 p.m. People with disabilities “don’t often have the opportunity to give, and the chorus provides that opportunity,” Montague said.
Montague also has started a weekly chorus for people with Parkinson’s disease on the theory that singing can help stave off the loss of speech that often afflicts patients. She’s brought music therapy to people with Alzheimer’s and dementia, and their caregivers — as well as to students in public schools around the South Shore.
She’s also introduced dance therapy to the conservatory and yoga classes for children with special needs, and is working on arts-related summer and vacation camp programs for those children as well.
“I’m really proud of everything with this program — in 10 years we are touching a lot of people,” Montague said.
Montague, who grew up in Toronto, was torn between a career in social work and one in music when she discovered she could combine both in music therapy. She earned her degree in the United States, and moved into her grandmother’s summer cottage in Pembroke — where she still lives with her husband — working first at what’s now the Arc of the South Shore in Weymouth and later at a large agency that supported people with mental health issues and developmental delays.
From there, she spent almost 10 years at the Massachusetts Hospital School in Canton, bringing music, art, and theater to the students, all of whom had physical disabilities. When she and the rest of her department were laid off, Montague approached South Shore Conservatory with her idea for a creative arts therapy program.
“For about two years, it was just me,” Montague said. “I did a lot of free services and demos, and I wrote a lot of grants. I was lucky to get a couple, and then really by word of mouth the programming grew to the point where I could hire one music therapist. Now we have four.”
Her department now has eight therapists in various specialties and has “gone from seeing 40 students a week to almost 600,” Montague said.
The conservatory, which has facilities in Duxbury, Hingham, and the space in Hanover, goes into the Scituate and Bourne public schools to provide music therapy, and consults regularly with the Hingham, Pembroke, and Plymouth schools, Montague said. Her therapists also teach classes at the conservatory, including “percussion commotion.”
“Yeah, it’s loud; it’s a very fun group,” Montague said.
The Community Voices chorus started with about 12 singers, six of whom still participate. About 80 people are now involved in the two choruses, which are underwritten by the Cordelia Family Foundation.
The choruses attract a range of ages — from late teens to pushing 70 — and abilities, Montague said. Some members are nonverbal, others have booming operatic tones. Some arrive in wheelchair vans from group homes; others are driven by relatives.
“We have seen significant friendships that have blossomed,” Montague said. “And people tell us that someone who has been withdrawn has become more confident and outgoing. Research shows that singing in groups, no matter who you are, decreases your depression and anxiety and feelings of isolation.”
Perhaps the person who benefits most, however, is Montague herself.
“I have the greatest gig,” Montague said. “I get to do music every single day, which for me is fabulous and my own therapy. And I get to see the power of music and what it can do. And it’s really powerful.”
SSC Community Voices Holiday Concert takes place Wednesday, Dec. 11, at 7 p.m., South Shore Conservatory, 64 St. George St., Duxbury. SSC Community Voices, Too! Holiday Concert takes place Wednesday, Dec. 11, at 7 p.m., at Laura’s Center for the Arts, 97 Mill St., Hanover. Admission is free. Visit sscmusic.org/ssc-community-voices.
Johanna Seltz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org