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Volume 26, Number 4 — April 2019

The Arts as Therapy: Gaining a Sense of Empowerment

Evelyn Pursley-Kopitzke's motto is
Evelyn Pursley-Kopitzke's motto is "Thank God for Music." That phrase is emblazoned on a quilt made by her friend, Sandee Sanders.

Become The Artists and Authors of Your Own Healing

By Angela Wampler | August 01, 2007

Research has shown that the arts — writing, visual arts, and music — have the power to reduce stress and strengthen the immune system. A! Magazine for the Arts recently talked to several people who have gone one step further — using the arts as a cleansing and healing tool, to take control of their lives and gain a sense of empowerment through artful communication.

"Music is My Way of Taking Control"

Local composer Evelyn Pursley-Kopitzke is currently battling breast cancer. That, coupled with the deteriorating health of both her parents who are in assisted living, is affecting the music she hears in her head.

Two years ago her mother broke her left arm and her pelvis. Last year she broke her hip, then three months later she broke her other hip, and after another six weeks, she broke the other side of her pelvis. Now 89 years old, her mother is making a recovery. However, Pursley-Kopitzke says, "While my mother was in the hospital, it became obvious to me that my father's mind was fading rapidly."

As a result, Pursley-Kopitzke admits, "My emotions have been very close to the surface. Composing music is my way of mourning for the people my parents had been; they aren't those people anymore, particularly my dad whose memories are pretty much gone."

"It became obvious that my parents would not be able to go home and care for each other, so I spent the greater part of the summer digging out of their house the results of their dwindling strength and their tendency to save items because of having grown up in the Depression and having lived in Africa where everything is useful." Pursley-Kopitzke says.

"I have lived in so many places, their home wasn't my childhood home, so the place itself didn't have any particular emotional connection. However, going through my parents' things refreshed my memories. It was like going through their lives, with quite a few things dealing with me personally."

Reliving childhood memories took Pursley-Kopitzke back to Tanzania, Africa, where she was born. She spent most of her first decade in African countries — where she recalls "a usually delightful childhood. My playmates were my animals, my brother, and the local African children."

As a result, Pursley-Kopitzke composed Vignettes From An African Childhood, written especially for The Paramount Players, a chamber music ensemble that premiered the composition in May at the Paramount Center for the Performing Arts in Bristol, Tenn.

Even though most of the Vignettes themselves were relatively light-hearted descriptions of Africa, Pursley-Kopitzke says, "I incorporated music I 'heard' last summer while caring for my parents' needs; and that music was also my way of mourning for the people they had been. The music that started out as simple descriptions became a lament that connected with listeners on several levels.

Following the performance, the composer saw people leaving who had tears in their eyes. "I realized the music connected with them," she says. "I suppose music is my way of taking control. It's a catharsis. I'm not comfortable being emotional around people, but my music can say everything without having to become openly vulnerable."

Pursley-Kopitzke describes the music of the Vignettes as "highly visual." Even non-musicians have told her, "I'm so glad you wrote music I could see." She says "The Paramount Players and others who have heard the music are encouraging me to expand it into a full-scale interpretive dance production."

To that end, if you are active in the world of dance and would like to help create a new ballet, Pursley-Kopitzke invites you to e-mail or call 423-323-5462.

In addition to dealing with her parents' problems, Pursley-Kopitzke has been undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. Is this experience affecting her current work? She says, "I don't know. It's easier to look back and say this or that helped than it is when you're in that moment. I'm much too close to it right now to know if it's great or not."

Pursley-Kopitzke is a member of the Greater Tri-Cities Area Composer Consortium and Voices of the Mountains. For more information, visit her website:

"My Art Became More Personal"

Kitty Williams recently retired after 19 years as Associate Professor of Nursing at Virginia Highlands Community College in Abingdon, where her lectures included the arts as therapeutic tools. It became more personal when Williams herself became a patient. She is an eight-year survivor of breast cancer, after chemotherapy, radiation and surgery.

Williams was already a visual artist who painted as a hobby. When she faced the uncertainty of life or death, she says, "My art became much more personal for me," and she began painting portraits of family members. "I wanted to express myself through my loved ones in that way," she explains. "The experience made me very sensitive, I always thought I was sensitive to people who needed health care, but it made me even more sensitive. I began expressing that through my art, with a deeper insight and deeper impact about what's really important in life."

She added, "My art is a wonderful outlet. It's soothing and relaxing. Once I become engrossed in my art, I feel like I'm lost forever. It's wonderful to know when you're ill or not feeling well, that you can still be creative, that your spirit is still alive."

Williams is a member of two local artists groups, Art of the Highlands and the Bristol Art Guild. She exhibits her artwork every year in the Healing Arts Festival at Bristol Regional Medical Center, which invites regional artists to participate in a wide variety of activities. She notes, "The Festival is helpful to both patients and the medical staff. We all could live with less stress in our lives."

— Today, you can call Delilah O'Haynes a survivor. The weeks of darkness in her life have dissipated. She says her writings helped her to heal.

— Meet Rebecca Lowry, a professional counselor, who uses expressive arts therapy in her practice.

— - When someone is sick, a smile can seem a million miles away. Patients at Bristol Regional Medical Center are finding the Healing Arts Festival a bright spot in their days.

— - Rheumatoid arthritis doesn't cripple dance ministery.

— The Knoxville Symphony's Music and Wellness Program has received national attention.

For information on music and wellness research and initiatives, visit the following