Music Beyond Measure
MSU Jazz Studies alumna uses music to help heal the wounds of trauma, abuse.
Tamara Williams has performed with jazz bands and in packed auditoriums. But her grandest receptions often take place at the shelters, crisis centers, and safe havens where she writes and performs music with survivors of trauma and abuse.
As the founder of Music Beyond Measure, Williams believes in the therapeutic power of the arts. Since 2013, the alumna of the Michigan State University College of Music has developed music programs in New Jersey and the Bronx for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse, and for individuals with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Soon, she hopes to take those programs nationwide with the help of arts organizations, human service agencies, and professional musicians and artists.
Music Beyond Measure helps survivors rediscover their sense of self while creating and sharing artistic performances. Those musical experiences, Williams says, help facilitate recovery and provide survivors with a “toolbox” of coping mechanisms. The program also sparks and reshapes community conversations about sensitive issues.
Williams personally knows the power of music. As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, she suppressed her feelings for years. It wasn’t until college that she realized music could help her deal with issues she had never addressed.
“I felt a sense of freedom when I sang,” says Williams who earned her master’s in Jazz Studies in 2011. “That’s how I like to use music with survivors—to show them there’s life beyond trauma and there’s a way you can pull yourself out and not remain stuck.”
Williams dealt with complex emotions during her first year of grad school. Inspired by her own personal therapy sessions, she started pouring her emotions into original compositions. Over time, she found the combination of therapy, music, and singing provided the formula she needed to move forward.
“The only thing that was missing for me was the group element,” Williams says. “I began wishing I could share my experiences with people who had been through similar things. That’s where the idea for creating Music Beyond Measure came in.”
Williams’ idea took shape when she mentored kids through the MSU’s Community Music School-Detroit. Director of Jazz Studies Rodney Whitaker says he immediately noticed her motivation and compassion, as well as her ability to provide a listening ear.
“Tamara relates to others in an extremely kind and meaningful way,” Whitaker says. “She’s an exceptional individual and artist who understands how music can help heal deep, personal wounds.”
After graduating MSU, Williams moved to New Jersey to pursue non-profit management, arts administration and music. Within two years, she had developed a curriculum with professional therapists, musicians and artists, and garnered the support of organizations like the New York Foundation for the Arts. She launched Music Beyond Measure in 2013, and piloted her first program the following year with NeON Arts—a partnership between Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute and the NYC Department of Probation.
The 16-week “Sing Your Story Project” paved the way for future short- and long-term programs involving music, dance, visual arts, poetry, theatre and film. Williams is also developing a training guide and toolkit for musicians and artists interested in starting similar projects around the U.S.
“I had the experience of knowing this type of approach actually works,” Williams says. “That’s why I created this program, and why it’s so important for me to get it out to help other survivors.”
Video provided by Music Beyond Measure (A project of NeOn Arts)