The Thetford Hill Congregational Church is currently seeking a new musician. The congregation recently bid a fond farewell to Maureen Burford, their choir director and church musician for the last six years or so. And for Maureen, too, it was not easy to leave this job that she loved.
Music has always been an integral part of Maureen’s life, from growing up in a musical family, to studying performance piano at Cornell, to a life that embraced teaching, performing, and directing music. Along the way she was musical and artistic director of the Revels, a challenging position in which she staged and directed all aspects of the production. This included choosing the story and picking the music, either drawing from Revels elsewhere or inventing a whole new story. With her assistants, she coordinated the show from the visuals to dancing, singing, and the incorporation of poetry. In the final week of rehearsals, she was the one to “edit” the finished production.
Closer to home, she served as the musician for the concerts of the Thetford Chamber Singers when it was under the direction of Valerie Miller. She is particularly grateful to Valerie for introducing her to a wide repertoire of music that spoke to the depth of the human experience. Perhaps most memorable was the adaptation by jazz vocalist Bobby McFerrin of the 23rd Psalm, “The Lord is my Shepherd,” a reverential piece that is dedicated to his mother.
As musician for the Congregational Church, Maureen’s goals went beyond running weekly choir rehearsals and playing at the Sunday service. She felt the heart of the job was to facilitate the act of worship and to support peoples’ spiritual experience. Indeed, music is incorporated into religious and spiritual practices the world over. In playing for the church choir, she too felt an inner quiet and a connection with something greater than the self. There were many great moments in her years as church musician. However, the best part was the spirit of collaboration in making something that exceeded the expectation and that “everyone came bringing their own gift."
It was her calling as an educator that ultimately persuaded her to leave her life in music. Since college, her parallel occupation has been teaching students from kindergarten to college level. In this realm she has long sought the key to helping her students “be their best selves.” The state of the world and ongoing issues in education, plus the stress and mental health of today’s youth, were deciding factors in Maureen founding a non-profit organization, Creative Lives, to approach these problems with new tools.
Back in 2011 she turned to her mentor and counselor Ellen Tadd for advice on how to bring more creative and contemplative education into schools. Ellen advised that students don’t need to be told how to be more creative. What is needed is the ability to be more holistic. An excerpt from one of Ellen’s books outlines the issue:
“Some people are extremely bright yet emotionally crippled, others are very loving yet their daily lives are chaotic. Many have great faith but very little clarity, while others are creative but stymied by a lack of confidence. Why are people so lopsided in their development?”
Ellen’s investigations over many years led to a deep understanding of the human energy system (also known as the chakra system) and body-mind connections, as opposed to more popularized mind-body connections. Under Ellen’s guidance, Maureen has distilled this knowledge that is fundamental to human development into tools and strategies that are accessible and would be helpful to all. They are offered through Maureen’s organization as the Framework for Wise Education and aim to empower teachers so their students achieve focus and concentration, develop positive relationships, become more resilient, and share their unique talents.
Maureen provided an anecdote to illustrate how body-mind connection works. She described a young girl who had recently been taken off her medication for ADHD (attention deficit disorder) and was unable to concentrate on doing her math homework. The root cause was her fear. Instead of more coaching in math, she was given the task of walking along a balance beam while touching and thinking about the “third eye” or 6th chakra in the middle of her forehead and how it illuminated her path along the balance beam. This center is, among other things, linked to mental clarity and concentration. Whenever she felt afraid and unfocused, she walked the balance beam. After three weeks of this practice she was no longer dependent on the medication (or the balance beam) and could concentrate peacefully on her homework. While there is no doubt an underlying neurological component to ADHD, the brain is also plastic, and this may allow it to be impacted by the energy system.
Maureen’s desire to uplift the human potential is the common thread between music and bringing body-mind work into education. While she loved her job at the church, the urgency of our times has inspired her to help people “become their best selves.”