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Music, art help families torn by Newtown school massacre

Music, art help families torn by Newtown school massacre

CHILDREN REMEMBERED: Family members representing fourteen of the twenty-six victims from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting address the media, Monday, Dec. 9, 2013, in Newtown, Conn. Newtown is not hosting formal events to mark the anniversary Saturday. Photo: Associated Press/Jessica Hill

By Barbara Goldberg and Ellen Wulfhorst

NEWTOWN, Conn./NEW YORK (Reuters) – When 6-year-old Ana Marquez-Greene was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre a year ago, her father, a professional jazz musician, stopped playing his saxophone.

When he could bring himself to pick it up again a month later, Jimmy Greene felt his emotional wounds start to heal and, within months, he recorded an album celebrating his daughter’s life. It is one of several works of art that have risen from the depths of loss and grief at Newtown.

Creative expression helps express the unspeakable – shock, loss, sorrow – when other means fail, experts say.

For some Newtown residents, the arts have provided a way to go on with their lives after the death of their loved ones when a young gunman killed 20 children and six adults at the school on Dec. 14, 2012.

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The parents of 6-year-old Emilie Parker, a first-grader who died along with her classmates, created the Emilie Parker Art Connection to support community and school arts programs.

Children who survived the shooting recorded a charity single of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” with the help of former new wave band Talking Heads members Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth, who live nearby.

Local composer Julie Lyonn Lieberman wrote a “Newtown Peace Anthem” for young string players.

Greene, who has recorded nine solo albums and played with jazz stars including Harry Connick, Jr., and Freddie Hubbard, and also teaches music at Western Connecticut State University, said his spirits improved after he resumed playing his horn.

“I picked up my instrument one day and felt much better. I felt like I was myself,” Greene said. “I realized that music is a big part of who I am and the more I played, the more like myself I felt. In the time I didn’t play, I kind of lost sense of myself in a way.

“Music is what I’ve always done,” he said. “It just naturally follows that music would be in times of joy, in times of grief, in times of whatever. Music is a way of expression.”

Greene said he created his new album “Beautiful Life” with his 9-year-old son in mind as well as his daughter. Isaiah was also at Sandy Hook the day of the shooting but was not injured.

“I don’t pretend to know what perspective he will put this in 10 years from now,” his father said. “But what I do hope is that he realizes that ‘You know what? My Mom and Dad, they worked very hard to honor my sister.’”

Greene said he hopes his album will be released early next year.

“I feel very blessed to have music as a means of expression,” he said. “It is helpful in ways dealing with the grief and the loss, the pain and the sadness that I deal with every day.”

TAPPING DEEP EMOTIONS

Art can help people grapple with grief because it taps emotions that are beyond language, as does deep tragedy, said Donna Schuurman, executive director of The Dougy Center, a Portland, Oregon, support service that focuses on grieving children.

“Real grief is deeper than words. It screams, it cries, it’s from the soul, from the gut,” Schuurman said. “Art can touch people and help them feel without having to make it be words.”

Other Newtown families found healing in words. Scarlett Lewis, the mother of shooting victim Jesse Lewis, 6, has written a book: “Nurturing, Healing, Love; A Mother’s Journey of Hope and Forgiveness.”

“My journal chronicled a journey of trying to turn a tragedy into something that can help heal myself, others, and even possibly the world,” she wrote on Facebook.

Outside of Newtown, survivors of other tragedies have turned to art as well.

The Lulu & Leo Fund, which raises funds for children’s arts education, was started by Marina and Kevin Krim, parents of a 2-year-old boy and 6-year-old girl who were stabbed to death in New York City last year. The family’s nanny has been charged with their murders.

The Lily Sarah Grace Foundation was founded by Matthew Badger to support the arts in underfunded public elementary schools.

Badger’s three daughters, 9-year-old Lily and 7-year-old twins Sarah and Grace, died in a house fire in Connecticut on Christmas Day 2011.

Grief expert Robert Zucker, author of “The Journey Through Grief and Loss,” said creative expression may serve to fill a human need to find meaning in life, especially in extraordinarily painful times.

He pointed to the story of the Terezin concentration camp, where noted musicians, composers and artists were sent during World War II. They secretly created art and music and managed to pass it on to children at the camp, fewer than 200 of whom survived.

“In extraordinary times when we are disarmed by our circumstances and probably at some level lose a sense of reason or meaning and are searching for some way of understanding our lives, the arts lend themselves to that struggle that we find ourselves in,” Zucker said.

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