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Using Music to Reach Different Audiences: Kathryn Peterson’s Life after BHMA

Photo of Kathryn Peterson, wearing a blue tank top and a name tag, smiling at the camera; green grass is visible in the background.

Discovering music opened a world of possibilities for Berkshire Hills Music Academy alumna Kathryn Peterson. As a child with cerebral palsy, Peterson, now 38, grew up immersing herself in songs and melodies—singing in church, performing in school productions, attending Broadway musicals, and following and judging American Idol in her living room. She first learned of BHMA through her cousin and was inspired to attend our Summer Program and experience it for herself; she then enrolled as a full-time student and embarked on four years of growth. From 2006 to 2010, Peterson thrived in our unique atmosphere that welcomed and nurtured her love of music, while teaching her how to channel her passion into productive ways. Eight years later, she is a music facilitator for preschool children in her hometown of Lynbrook, New York. Peterson credits our program with helping to pave the way for the rest of her future. “I am so happy that I went to BHMA,” she says. “If I had not…I would not be doing what I’m doing today.”

Peterson is an active, kind, and thoughtful individual with an upbeat nature. Though she admits that having cerebral palsy “can be hard” and she “need[s] help with some things, such as transportation and cooking,” Peterson has always fully participated in life around her. This is true of her time at BHMA, where she maximized our program offerings—taking voice lessons, musical theater, and social skills classes, in addition to therapeutic horseback riding, Boltwood, Special Olympics, and Best Buddies. In Peterson’s four years at BHMA, her independence bloomed as she reached new landmarks, like living in an apartment, successfully navigating a kitchen, and practicing public speaking as a member of the marketing team. Through all of these experiences, Peterson developed genuine and enduring connections with classmates, staff, Mount Holyoke students, and her Best Buddy.

Photo of Kathryn Peterson, wearing a pink collared shirt and jean jacket, pushing a loaded cart at the grocery store; other Berkshire Hills students walk behind her.

BHMA was a significant step in Peterson’s professional development, one that was tailored to her desire to share music with others. Led by past Music Instructor Kathryn Lively, Peterson flourished in our Music & Human Services seminar, allowing her to create and perform music programs for seniors, as well as preschool and elementary school children. MHS gave Peterson an opportunity to learn how to craft lesson plans and setlists that were specific to the audience, and to implement her social skills teachings during fieldwork outings. As Director of Music & Music Vocation Karen Carreira recalls, Peterson, “was very dedicated and invested in that work.” Another venue that expanded on the lessons of MHS was her work in the radio booth at Mount Holyoke College. Peterson hosted her own two-hour weekly radio show for more than two and a half years—combining her public speaking skills with her ability to use music to reach different audiences. She had many local fans that listened, and her mom Fay would tune in from home. MHS and the radio show were windows into what Peterson’s future would hold.

Peterson now holds a paid position as a music teacher in Lynbrook’s preschool, where she introduces children to the wonders of music. Similar to MHS, she creates her own lesson plans by listening for songs the students will enjoy and burning CDs. Peterson also works on a volunteer basis running a karaoke-style music program and serving as the official DJ for young adults with developmental disabilities at the local AHRC. The work she does has a true impact in the lives of those she meets; she is said to enter the room to cheers and can get one hundred people dancing. Carreira believes Peterson “found a special niche” while at BHMA, and states “we are very proud of Kathryn and her ongoing efforts to use music to help others."

Eight years after BHMA, Peterson is “very busy and engaged” in life. She lives in her own apartment in the family home—maintaining her independence while having a nearby support system. Our program prepared Peterson for a future that centered around music, as music has always been the most authentic and rewarding way for her to express herself and connect with others. We “will forever be grateful for the part that BHMA played in making it possible,” writes Fay. In June 2017, Peterson and her mom returned to campus for the ribbon cutting of the Bernon Music Center and were moved to see BHMA’s expanded capacity to change the lives of people like her.


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