Each weekday morning, music therapist Kate Beever loads her guitar and box of percussion instruments into her big blue car and takes her one-woman show on the road. Traveling to hospitals, cancer centers, group homes and her private studio in Saco, Beever helps clients of all ages experience music’s incredible healing power.
“Throughout my day, I get to make music with many different people and watch them absolutely light up,” she says. “I focus on abilities, and the disability goes away.”
It took years of specialized study for Beever to help others find spontaneous joy—along with tangible improvements—through music. A musician since childhood, she earned a bachelor’s degree in music from the University of Southern Maine and a master’s degree in music psychotherapy from New York University. Board-certified as a music therapist, Beever works with adults and children with cancer, autism, cerebral palsy, brain injury, depression and developmental disabilities.
“Kate has a beautiful calm demeanor that engages even the most reluctant to feel safe and want to participate in music-making,” says Linda Bonnar-Ivery of Pine Tree Society, where Beever provides weekly music therapy for children on the autism spectrum, and also leads popular workshops at Pine Tree’s summer camp. “Everyone who encounters Kate is struck by her gift for using music to bring about deep, positive change.”
When the Gorham native, 32, returned to Maine in 2010 and founded Maine Music and Health, she was the only music therapist in the southern part of the state. Today, thanks to advocacy at the state level and a growing awareness of creative arts therapy, the number of music therapists is growing each year.
“Mainers tend to be reserved. Music is a non-threatening way to address emotions,” Beever says.
The latest brain research supports music therapy’s efficacy. Music is processed in all areas of the brain, Beever explains, stimulating the reward centers and acting as a natural motivator.
“For people with brain injuries or dementia, music can help get non-functioning parts of the brain back online,” she says. “I’ve had clients who hadn’t spoken in years, but it turns out they can sing familiar songs. That can be the gateway to regaining speech.”
Music can transform lives in significant ways, such as the time Beever worked with a pregnant teen staying at a homeless shelter. At first the girl would barely look at her, but as they began listening to music together, Beever slowly gained her trust. “She wanted to write songs, so I found her a guitar and she learned to play and write lyrics. It was amazing to see the changes in her, as she began to believe in herself and to make better life choices.”
When Beever does bedside music therapy for pediatric patients and their families at Maine Medical Center, having the chance to sing or shake a maraca quickly soothes the anxiety of being in the hospital. “If a child isn’t sleeping because he’s scared about being in the hospital, music can help him relax and then everyone feels better,” she says.
Although every session is different based on individual needs and treatment goals, Beever always includes the same opening and closing song (“predictability is important,” she says). She brings a guitar and percussion instruments, but sometimes a client benefits from a flute, accordion or ukulele. “I decide in the moment what a client needs.”
That responsiveness was key for Jayne Schroeder’s son, Jackson, who worked with Beever for more than a year before moving out of state. Jackson, now 17, has Down syndrome, autism and sensory issues. Beever would incorporate his passion for professional wrestling into silly songs that held his interest. She also taught him some chords on the ukulele, and they would record their songs.
“Kate met my son exactly where he was with patience and love,” Schroeder says. “There is a calmness about her that he responded to, and their time together was often the best hour of his week.”
Beever lives in Portland with her partner, musician Jeff Beam, and their two cats. Despite her demanding work schedule, she finds time to perform as a pianist and percussionist, along with hiking, reading and visiting the Portland Museum of Art.
“Keeping a work-life balance is important, but my work is so rewarding,” she says. “I get to see clients transform every day.”
Lori Douglas Clark is a journalist, poet and community volunteer who lives with her family in Readfield.