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Music Heals:
Why We’re Supporting Music Therapy

by Marley Jay

If you love music – if you’ve followed a favorite artist for years and years, or if you organize your calendar around Beacon Runs and summer tour dates, or if you travel far and wide to see bands – you know the power of music. It elevates good moments and makes great times unforgettable. And when we’re feeling low, it can speak to us on a deeper level, express our emotions, and sustain us when we need it most. I think all music fans understand that intuitively, but some of us experience that power on a deeper level.

My brother Tyler taught me that. Tyler was pretty much destined to be a music nut, and he attended his first Allman Brothers concert at age 8. By the time he first got into the Beacon Theatre, he was hooked. At school and camp he would discourse about the music, the dates it was recorded and the players and album like someone two or three times his age. His tastes broadened to include the Grateful Dead and Phish and Soulive and Widespread Panic, and his passion deepened. The music became a part of him and he evangelized about what he loved. If he loved a band or a song, he wanted to share it with everyone.

Tyler couldn’t have known it then, but he was going to depend on music a great deal in his life. When he was a freshman in high school he was diagnosed with chordoma, a spinal cancer with an incidence of one in a million. He spent the winter being poked and prodded and scanned at doctors’ appointments and heard a lot of bad news. When all else failed, he focused on the Allman Brothers’ cover of “I Walk on Gilded Splinters” to try to keep his cool.

In the months that followed he went through brain surgeries and spent months in the hospital, then went through physical therapy and radiation treatment. There were extreme highs and lows in the years afterward, and music was always a critical part of them. One summer my mother introduced him to the work of The Band. Their music unfolded like plays and the songs transported him to another time and place.

At 17 Tyler was almost back where he started after his doctors found a recurrence and he went through a grueling chemotherapy regimen. But as his treatment wound down he had something to look forward to: through the Make-A-Wish Foundation he had received tickets to 10 of the Allman Brothers’ Beacon shows. Tyler was front and center for the legendary 2009 run, bringing friends and family to watch a string of great shows featuring a parade of special guests. Late in the run Make-A-Wish treated our family to a dinner with Derek Trucks and Oteil Burbridge. They both enjoyed Tyler’s company, and Tyler spent most of the night whispering and laughing with Oteil.

A few nights later Tyler found himself seated onstage for the last few nights of the Allmans’ party, and we watched awestruck as Oteil played Tyler’s bass during the band’s performances of “Keep on Smilin’” and “Soulshine.”

When the run ended Tyler was off to Boston for more radiation treatment, but by now something had changed. Tyler had become determined to help chordoma patients like himself even if it meant his friends wouldn’t see him as a normal kid anymore. That summer he told his camp friends the truth – that he might have only a few years to live – to raise money to help find a cure. By then the act of speaking had become difficult for Tyler, but he got up in front of the crowd and pressed on. I imagine him telling hundreds of friends and parents and I always hear Rick Danko singing one of The Band’s great songs:

“See the man with the stage fright/Standing up there to give it all his might/He got caught in the spotlight…”

Tyler lived the rest of his life in that spotlight, though he still made time to explore new music and play the drums in frequent jam sessions with my father and me. By the middle of 2010 his health started to deteriorate, and with nothing likely to extend his life, Tyler decided to forgo treatment. As his friends went off to college, he remained at home and threw himself into music one last time. He scoured our dad’s CD collection for good blues and soul music and pored through his record collection to teach himself about jazz. When his friends came to visit on the weekends, he gave them CDs of the good stuff and handed out iTunes playlists so they could take a piece of him with them and listen whenever they wanted. Tyler died in October 2010, and those playlists still get regular workouts from me, my parents, and his friends.

Tyler was special to us, but we know we’re not the only family with a story like this. This year we formed Music Never Stops: the Tyler Seaman Foundation to help support music therapy programs for teenagers and young adults with serious illnesses. Tyler taught us how much music can mean to them, and we want to help kids who went through the kinds of crises Tyler went through. So we’ve formed a partnership with Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City, and together we're setting up Tyler’s Room, a new music therapy space for Beth Israel’s teen patients. We’ll be raising money to allow Beth Israel to create that space, staff it with new therapists, do renovations, and buy musical instruments, equipment, software, concert tickets and more. Beth Israel’s therapists are experts at using sound to help diagnose illnesses and help patients express their emotions, and they are committed to scrupulous research and spreading the word about music therapy. They’re remarkable and caring people, and as a bonus, they have excellent taste in music.

Our commitment to Beth Israel is a big one: we’ve pledged to raise $100,000 over the next five years to make Tyler’s Room as great as we want it to be. We need all the support we can get, so we’re asking for your help. Please visit our website at www.tylersmusicroom.org to learn more about us and what we’re doing. Music is made for sharing. Help us share the healing qualities of music with people who need it.

The good news is that we’ve received some very enthusiastic and gratifying support from friends and loved ones in the early going. Hittin’ the Note is donating the proceeds from selected sales of Skydog: the Duane Allman Retrospective, and the Tedeschi Trucks Band will donate $1 from each ticket sold for its September 21 Beacon Theatre performance. I’ll be at that show, and I know I’ll be wishing Tyler was there with me. That happens at every concert I go to. But I also know I’ll be thinking about the good things Tyler’s Room will do for years to come and how proud he would be. If his life was a song, we want the jam to keep going. I hope you’ll choose to join us.
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