Musicians raising funds to help kids who stutter enjoy summer camp

Pete-Otis-addresses-the-audience-at-Songtown’s-Honouring-Our-Own-concert-for-Jay-Douglas-on-May-29-17-300x180/TORONTO EAST/-Gary 17, www.torontomoon.ca

In addition to its social benefits, music not only “has charms to sooth a savage breast,” as the playwright William Congreve observed in the early 1700s, it also, researchers are finding, appears to have a number of other physical, cognitive and health benefits. The special combination of left-brain and right-brain activity that we undergo when we not only listen to but perform music is apparently a general tonic for the mind. Music therapy is now a recognized treatment regimen, which, according to the website www.musicheals.ca, can help to “maintain and restore mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health.”

One of the conditions that music can help a lot with is stuttering, which can be a socially debilitating condition, particularly for older children and teens who are at a crucial point of their lives in terms of developing social skills and bonds. It’s hard enough for boys and girls to learn how to express romantic interest, to integrate into groups, etc., without the added complication of not being able to effectively communicate because of the stuttering handicap.

But as songwriter Pete Otis discovered for himself as a teen who was plagued by the malady, “as I got into music I realized that I never stuttered when I was singing.”

That realization was a key point in overcoming the problem, he told me recently, as it demonstrated to him that the phenomenon was not beyond his control and helped inspire him to believe that he could overcome it once and for all. Which, as is obvious to anyone who’s heard him speak publicly, as he did so eloquently last week at the Honouring Our Own tribute concert he put on for Jay Douglas, for example, he most certainly did.

Earlier this year Otis decided that it was time to make good on “a promise to God” that he made as he struggled with the affliction “to do something worthwhile with my life if God would help me to overcome it,” he related.

The result is a concert taking place tonight at Black Swan Tavern at 154 Danforth Ave. that will raise funds to help send two kids who stutter to a special “Laughter’s Voice” camp being organized for children who are affected by the dysfunction. In conjunction with the Canadian Stuttering Association, Otis’s SongTown music enterprise has organized a show featuring several talented musicians (including, of course Otis himself) as well as two comedy acts put on by people who stutter.

Based on an existing camp in B.C., the Laughter’s Voice to be held at a facility in Mansfield, Ontario, will offer kids who stutter the opportunity to engage in the usual activities summer camps offer (swimming, hiking, archery, horseback riding, crafts and drama) but from which many are self-excluded because of their social disability. There will also be speech therapists involved and the kids will be encouraged to open up about their experiences and come to realize both that they are not alone and that it can be vanquished.

Otis has also been inspired by involvement in the project to write a new song, which he actually debuted with the talented house band at last week’s HOO concert. “Nervous” is a universally accessible tune about being tongue-tied talking to someone you desire romantically —something I’m sure just about everyone can relate to— but the phrase “n-n-n-n-nervous” that’s repeated in the chorus will have special resonance for anyone who’s ever had stammering issues.

Other musical artists on the bill include Juno winner Cathy Young, Harpin’ Norm Lucien; Darwin Bruce; James Sloan; Roger Zuraw; King Fabuloso and Bela Ray. The show gets underway at 7 and admission at the door is $20, however if you act quickly you can probably still purchase advance tickets at www.songwtown.ca for just $15.
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-Gary 17, www.torontomoon.ca