Accepting, finding changing, healing, building and harmonizing are threads woven in the programs at Crossroads for Women. Nora Kastelnik’s class, The Joy of Harmonizing is no exception.
Nora a native of Seattle, Washington settled in Albuquerque fourteen years ago. Exhausted after years of failed relationships both with family and friends, as well as an unhealthy dose of dreary weather, Nora began her search for harmony and sunlight. After a brief stay in California, she began her life in New Mexico.
A singer songwriter, Nora found kindred spirits in the music community in Albuquerque. She launched MapYourWay to 21, a musical program which empowered teens through improvisational vocal and musical exercises. Energized by the success of these efforts, Nora wanted to share this technique with an organization that would fully embrace her ideas. After praying fervently for direction, she was inspired to call non-profits in Albuquerque. Many calls later led to a conversation with Stacey Boone, the Program Director of Maya’s Place a Crossroads for Women transitional housing program. Maya’s Place is a structured nine to twelve month program at a fifteen bed multi-lease apartment living site for women upon release from incarceration. Women participate in on-site therapeutic programming addressing substance addictions and mental illness, as well as, life skills education, group therapy, parenting, vocational training, holistic health services and community activities. All services are aimed at helping the women move toward self –sufficiency.
Ms. Boone was enthusiastic about the possibility of offering a class that helps women find and celebrate their spiritual strength through voice. “I was impressed with Nora’s creative approach to healing trauma in a safe, communal, environment.” Stacey was especially struck by the practical goal of the class, which is to master the art of breathing in dealing with life’s challenges. The expression “Take a Deep Breath” refers to actually breathing deeply in order to gain composure to find inner strength and confidence.
Stacey arranged for Nora to demonstrate a ten minute presentation to her and a few members of the staff. The pilot class was well received, and Nora was asked to expand this demonstration to present to all the Crossroads staff at the 2016 annual retreat. The staff was inspired by Nora’s program and soon after the retreat Nora began volunteering at Maya’s Place. She has been sharing her craft with Crossroads clients for more than a year. Nora explained that her passion to guide people to wellness through the joy of harmony is fueled by her own experience. Nora reflected, “Music saved my life, and keeps me out of trouble.”
Nora teaches The Joy of Harmonizing one day a week for one hour. She creates a safe, non-judgmental space where the students explore the power of their voices. The class is presented in three segments meditation, humming, and singing. Purposeful meditation is a requirement for the clients to receive credit for the class. Although the students do not have to actively participate in humming or singing, they must engage in the process.
Nora moves the class flawlessly from meditation to a rhythmic breathing. She asks, “What medicine do we need today?” The class answers with smiles and joyful vocal sounds. She plays a piece of music with a strong beat, and the students are vocally directed to move from breathing in rhythm to humming. Eventually individuals volunteer to improvise lyrics while others contribute harmony or a drumming beat. The room is filled with an energetic acceptance of the music the group has just created. The tangible goal of the class is to create songs with or without lyrics. However the abstract fruits of the team’s creative process produces pride, triumph and a sense of accomplishment in the individual class members.
Ms. Kastelnik’s two ultimate goals are: to teach others her technique in order to spread the healing vocal program as far as possible, and to produce a CD of songs that have originated from this class. These goals are slowly being realized.
Ashley Sena, a former client and now a Crossroads staff member, is studying Nora’s musical healing program. Ashley hopes to bring “The Joy of Harmonizing” to The Pavilions in Los Lunas, another Crossroads transitional housing program. In addition, Nora is currently collaborating with other artists on her CD project. When this undertaking reaches completion, the recording will be donated to Crossroads for Women.
Nora’s class guides her students to find their voices and change their stories. This goal is at the heart of what Crossroads is known for, “Breaking Cycles. Building Lives.” And what better way to build lives than through cooperation, understanding and living the joy of harmony.
–Written by Jo Jennings West