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Tunes to heal: Local physician wants to spread the healing power of music

By Cheryl Schweizer Columbia Basin Herald

MOSES LAKE – Larry Birger said he has experienced the support that music can provide in hard times, and wanted to pass it on to others. That’s why he founded the Learn from the Masters Music Outreach.

“The purpose is to share the healing power of music. That’s deliberately vague because there are so many ways it can be manifested,” Birger said.

The organization sponsored a concert in Moses Lake Feb. 12, featuring guitarist Adam Cord and backed by Birger’s band, Some Other People. Birger said he hopes to do more free concerts as well as provide lessons on the LMMO website to teach people how to play guitar and other instruments.

Birger is a physician, currently employed as a hospitalist at Samaritan Hospital. He’d always been interested in music but put off studying music to pursue medical school, then his medical career. Some rough times in 2017 reawakened his interest and then he met Cord, a guitarist with the Youngstown (Ohio) Symphony Orchestra and a well-known music transcriptionist.

Birger founded LMMO later that year.

“(Cord) ignited what I would call a renaissance in my music,” Birger said.

It came at a time when Birger needed it. Music, playing and listening, helped him through some bumpy times, he said.

“When I talk about the healing power of music it’s from my own experience,” he said.

His friend, jazz musician William “Tuck” Andress, told Birger he’s had people come up after a performance and tell him the music made them feel better. Sometimes, Andress told Birger, he wasn’t really satisfied with his performance, but it affected the listeners regardless.

Birger said there’s a lesson there about music and its power. It doesn’t have to be a great performance to have an effect on the people who hear it.

No matter what form, from jazz to rock to classical, music has a lot to say, he said. And in his opinion, the more music out there the better.

“The whole idea of a stream, or current, of life and love and beauty and joy, and bring that to bear everywhere we can,” he said. “There’s a power in it.”

He cited his first meeting with Cord as an example. Birger contacted him looking for transcriptions of the music of guitarist Phil Keaggy. Their conversation went beyond music transcription.

“I think we talked for two and a half hours or something,” Birger said.

Birger is a guitar player.

“My first love is finger-style guitar,” he said.

He’s started branching out as part of his goal of expanding the offerings available at and through LMMO, he said. He’s been working with Andress and his wife Patricia “Patti” Cathcart Andress, who perform as Tuck & Patti. It’s something completely new for a guy who’s concentrated on rock music until now.

“I’m intrigued by what you can do on jazz guitar,” Birger said.

But not everybody has the money to get lessons or lives in a place where lessons are available. Birger said one of the organization’s goals is to provide opportunities for people who have limited access to music instruction.

“The teaching videos are an example of that,” he said. “There’s definitely an educational component.”

The videos are accessible on the LMMO website. Birger said he plans to add up to 10 more, focusing on instruments that are relatively easy for people to find, including keyboard and drums, as well as vocal instruction. Production uses three cameras, so students can see the techniques at all times, he said.

He got the idea while taking lessons with Cord and thought about the benefits of providing those lessons for other students.

“Wouldn’t it be nice if we could preserve that?” he remembered thinking.

Birger has other plans for LMMO, both in Moses Lake and Ellensburg. He wants the organization to sponsor more concerts and school outreach, visits to long-term care facilities and work with hospice organizations. The LMMO helped sponsor the visit of guitar virtuoso Billy McLaughlin for a woman in hospice, he said.

He also wants to sponsor workshops, both for a fee and for free, with some of the artists he has met. He wants to promote music in general, he said, with the goal of getting better pay for musicians.

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