The art of healing

CNJ staff photo: Andy DeLisle
Davide Cabassi performs during an Arts in Healing program Friday at Clovis Community College. The Italy native said in times of sickness he turns to his piano and music for comfort.

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

In a metal chair on a chilly stage, ViolaMontoya closed her eyes and heard the beat of horse hooves in crisp snow. She imagined, as concert pianist Davide Cabassi pounded on a piano in the Clovis Community College Town Hall, his entire body — his fingers bending, his head swaying — possessed by his music.

Less than two dozen people, their chairs assembled in an arc just inches from the pianist, were invited Friday to the Town Hall for an intimate meeting with Cabassi, a classical pianist who nabbed a spot as a finalist at the 12th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth, Texas.

Cabassi performed Thursday night as part of the Clovis Community College Cultural Arts Series.

Friday morning, illumined by soft blue lights on the stage, he performed for Arts in Healing.

Sponsored by Clovis Community College and Plains Regional Medical Center, the program uses art to refresh and heal.

“Music reaches us on so many different levels. Just the feeling you get from hearing such a magnificent piece of music helps heal the soul,” Cultural Arts Director Christy Mendoza said.

“Our goal,” said CCC Director of Resource Development Stephanie Spencer, “is to show performing arts can have a positive, almost healing effect on people undergoing therapy.”

Senior citizens, cancer and stroke patients, and residents of a treatment center for young males in the legal system were invited to Cabassi’s Friday performance, which marked the launch of Arts in Healing.

Cabassi, his hair tucked behind his ears, the ends of his jeans frayed, sat sideways on a piano seat Friday and shared stories with his audience. He conversed as if he were in a living room, rather than on stage.

That was ntil Clovis resident Jeff Jacobs, the tube from his oxygen pack trailing from his nose down his chest and under his chair, urged Cabassi to play something. Jacobs, 81, has a lung condition, and exercises two days a week at Plains Regional Medical Center.

In response, Cabassi played a piece by Robert Schumann, a German composer. His fingers tangoed across the keyboard.

His performance aligned well with Arts in Healing.

A bone-eating virus he contracted as a child led the Italy native to the piano. Unable to walk at the age of 9, Cabassi glued himself to the keyboard.

“I was pretty sick as a kid,” Cabassi said Friday. “Then, I started to play.”

“What saved me,” said Cabassi, who rebuffs the concept of innate talent, “was discipline.”

Mastering the piano remained his outlet, even after the virus left his body. Later in life, the artist dealt with depression. “Again, it was this box,” he said, pointing to the piano, “that took me out.”

Plains Regional Medical Center physical therapist and administrator Nola Pawol agrees with Cabassi. Dedication is essential in recovery.

“It takes a strong desire to recover if you have one side of your body paralyzed,” Pawol said.

“Music is a part of the soul,” remarked Louise Snell, 88, after Cabassi’s performance.
It “takes you from the lowest depths to the highest heaven,” she said.

The power of art will continue to be tested with other Arts in Healing performances, Mendoza said.

In the next series performance, magicians will teach magic tricks to patients with a variety of health issues, from learning disabilities to spinal cord injuries.