Music showcase highlights healing power of song

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Norwich - posted Tue., Apr. 19, 2011
Denise Hutchinson channels Aretha Franklin in 'Dr. Feelgood' as guitarist Dick Pape looks on. Hutchinson was among the performers at the annual Artreach Music Showcase April 16. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.
Denise Hutchinson channels Aretha Franklin in 'Dr. Feelgood' as guitarist Dick Pape looks on. Hutchinson was among the performers at the annual Artreach Music Showcase April 16. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.

From bluesy funk to quirky pop, music of many genres filled the air April 15 and 16, as performers from Artreach presented their annual Music Showcase at the Donald Oat Theater.

It was music with a mission beyond mere entertainment. Artreach has been employing the creative and dramatic arts as recovery tools for adults with psychiatric disorders since 1985. The 17 performers presented their vocal and instrumental solos as a testament to the healing power of creativity.

The informal coffeehouse atmosphere set the stage for performances of songs ranging from Barenaked Ladies’ cheerful ditty, “If I Had a Million Dollars,” to the country-rock tune, “How ‘Bout You?” and Dire Straits’ “Water of Love.” Singers and instrumentalists were backed by Artreach’s “house band,” Shrink Rapt, which included drummer Doug Bartkowski, who volunteers his musical talents each year for the showcase.

“It’s all about these people. They’re awesome,” said Bartkowski during intermission. “It’s wonderful, you can see. It’s family.”

Becca Atkins, Artreach’s executive director, played bass guitar in Shrink Rapt and sang a duet with the program’s musical director and lead guitarist, Dick Pape. She told the audience that, despite appearances, the two of them had a case of the jitters before they took the stage.

“That’s kind of the point of this [performance] – to get terrified and live through it anyway,” she explained. “That’s a skill that can be generalized.”

Among the performers were mother-and-daughter duo Catherine and Sarah Fedeli singing “The Climb”; vocalist Matthew Olson, who recently was one of 13 finalists in “Catch a Rising Star” in Plainfield; and Denise Hutchinson, who belted out a soulful rendition of Aretha Franklin’s “Dr. Feelgood.”

Artreach works throughout the year to promote and support recovery for individuals with mental health issues in creative ways. The program’s Second Step Players, a performing theater troupe, presents original sketches, musical parodies and stand-up comedy that serves to educate, entertain and reduce the stigma of mental illness.

Atkins said that the Second Step troupe, which marks its 25th birthday this year, recently completed a new project in which members worked on stand-up comedy routines with David Granirer, a professional comedian from Vancouver, via Skype.

Artreach hopes to present a concert this summer at the gazebo on the Norwichtown Green as part of the city’s summer concert series, Atkins added. In addition, an exhibit of paintings is slated for Mental Health Month in May at Otis Library in Norwich.

Artreach offers classes in visual and performing arts, dance, meditation, fitness and other fields, aimed at supporting physical and emotional health for its participants. It also provides recreational trips into the community for ball games, concerts, fairs and other events.

The program’s website, www.artreachheals.org, has links to its two YouTube channels, Artreach Heals and Stand Up for Mental Health, where videos of participants’ performances can be viewed.


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