A Universal Way of Learning and Healing 

Using arts, dance and music, The Hochstein School in Rochester offers different ways to learn, heal

By Colleen M. Farrell


Non-traditional approaches to health matters aren’t new.

But, in some cases, they are becoming more recognized by the medical community.

Therapies involving music, art and dance are even being embraced by some health care practitioners, according to Jennifer Phillips, chairwoman of the expressive arts department at The Hochstein School in Rochester.

“The arts are universal,” she said.

Studies have shown they can help with cognitive function, motor skills development, relaxation and pain control. The arts can help boost emotional health, too.

But, the crux of the mission of The Hochstein School’s expressive arts department is connection, whether it be between a client and a student, a client and his or her family or with themselves, Phillips said.

“It’s incredibly, incredibly important,” she said. “It’s kind of at the heart of the expressive arts field.”

For more than 40 years, Hochstein has offered music therapy. It’s since expanded to offer art and dance therapy, too.

Presenting “Music Therapy and Aging: Nurturing Connection Through Music, Rhythm, and Dance” for a group of residents in Pittsford.
Presenting “Music Therapy and Aging: Nurturing Connection Through Music, Rhythm, and Dance” for a group of residents in Pittsford.

More than 1,000 people annually take part in the offerings. Clients find them in various ways. Referrals from past clients; passing by the Downtown United Presbyterian Church on Fitzhugh Street, which houses Hochstein; and community partners who make referrals.

There’s no such thing as a “typical client.” They range in age from 6 months to 104. Their interests, backgrounds and learning abilities are as widespread as their ages. Some have learning differences. Others are dealing with medical issues. Still others have dementia or brain injury.

“We have a pretty large population of folks who come here with developmental disabilities, either for a little extra help with some goal areas they have or they come to us because they want to learn to play an instrument,” Phillips said.

The music, art and dance therapy programs are adapted for each client to help them achieve whatever goal they have, Phillips said.

“We have that kind of unique experience to work with many, many individuals with their different needs and different preferences,” she said.

Hochstein even offers the ability for loved ones to participate with clients, like someone dealing with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregiver.

Phillips, a music therapist, says her medium can be a very powerful way for clients to express themselves and connect with others.

“I think that music is personal. It’s a unique experience and every person’s journey with music is their own,” she said. “They get to claim that as their own.”

Hochstein’s programs for children in early intervention are popular. They’re designed to help them overcome hurdles, but, “to the kids, it’s just fun,” she said.

Collaborative play through musical exploration at Hochstein’s Musical Mystery Tour.
Collaborative play through musical exploration at Hochstein’s Musical Mystery Tour.

Thanks to the generosity of benefactors and other funding sources, the programs are open to anyone, Phillips said.

“Our whole mission is to be able to offer expressive arts and music education and dance education to anyone who wants it, regardless of ability to pay,” she said. “We are here to cater to the community.”

Phillips said Hochstein’s staff work well together, striving to create a supportive and comfortable learning environment.

“Something that sounds really simple but when it comes down to it really isn’t is watching a client reach a goal that they have,” she said. “The joy from that is palpable.”

For more information, visit https://hochstein.org or email jennifer.phillips@hochstein.org or carla.larsson@hochstein.org.

Photo: Leading a group music therapy session at The Hickok Center for Brain Injury.