#84 Richard Lewellen, music therapist and Barbershop Harmony singer and judge
By Planetary Gigs Society
Richard Lewellen fell in love with music as a toddler, watching movies such as Aladdin, Fantasia, and the Jungle Book, and the amazing music in those films. His mother was a classically trained pianist and his father loved jazz. Richard was a Beatles fan in middle school and played guitar, but was introduced to Barbershop harmony singing at age 14 and it has been a huge part of his life since then. He met his wife, Christina Lewellen, through Barbershop singing (she was interviewed in Planetary Gig Talk #73). Richard says Barbershop harmony singing was his way of being like a Beatle; he says it is very accessible and allows one to be in a community of various voices. It is not well known, but Barbershop harmony really was started about the same time as jazz by African American singers and was not accepted more broadly until whites began to sing Barbershop. Barbershop singing combines interesting rhythms, creative search for harmonies, improvisation, and percussion. Barbershop singers must be fully present in the music in a way that overcomes technical flaws; Richard says you can hear the heartbeat of music in the moment of singing. Richard also has become a professional music therapist. He says music therapists undergo a rigorous regimen of study and must be Board Certified to practice. Music therapists serve the entire population, cradle to grave, including helping to soothe children in neonatal units, assisting children in schools, those with autism, at-risk teens, veterans with PTSD, rehabilitation from medical events like stroke and gunshot victims (including Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who was aided in regaining her speech by music therapists), pain management, dementia/Alzheimer’s patients, and in many other situations. He says music and rhythm can help balance out many issues in the body or psychologically. Richard says, “Entrainment through music is really powerful; it’s a human superpower we don’t tap into enough.” He also says we don’t apply the intention of using music as broadly as we should. Music is a big part of many societies and it is how they connect with something larger than themselves.