& WFDU-FM’s TRADITIONS playlist for May 17, 2015
It is no secret that beyond the recognizable entertainment and social merits, music has powerful therapeutic values. Trained therapists have shown that music can stimulate brainwaves to increase concentration and also relieve stress. Studies have shown that music has influence in reducing blood pressure, boosting the immune system and releasing muscle tensions.
Thus, it was no surprise that when Arlon Bennett was given the news that he had Parkinson’s Disease, the singer-songwriter looked at his muse in a new light and music took on a new significance in his life. Before the diagnosis, Arlon’s music was always filled with positive messages and even with this change in his life, that quality has only grown stronger as he continues to look at “the world of possibilities.” Arlon has created “The Healing Project” to promote his own healing process. The Healing Project has become the name of his band and also the title of his campaign to increase awareness of the disease.
Born in the suburbs of Long Island, Arlon was drawn to the work of the folk-rock singer-songwriters of the ’60s and ’70s. Harry Chapin, Cat Stevens, James Taylor and others were influences on the music that Arlon began to create. Arlon would attend Purdue University in Indiana, studying math and computer science which led to a career in the information technology field. Returning to the East Coast to pursue his career, music remained an important aspect of his life. Arlon spent his free time writing songs and performing wherever he could and participating in singer-songwriter competitions. His efforts earned him a place as a finalist in 1999 at the Kerrville Folk Festival’s prestigious “New Folk” competition and in 2001 he was a winner in a competition at the New Jersey Folk Festival.
Arlon’s skills as a songwriter were being recognized in places other than competitions. His music was finding audiences in a variety of outlets. One of his earlier compositions, “The Ace of Grace”, a song about Arlon’s boyhood hero Arthur Ashe, was used used at a dedication ceremony for a statue in the tennis legends hometown of Richmond, Virginia. Arlon’s admiration for Ashe was based not only on performance, but also on the way Ashe composed himself in victory and defeat as well as the many obstacles that he had to overcome. Ashe’s handling of his subsequent heart issues and AIDS, which would take his life, also set an example for Arlon.
Arlon gained additional attention from sports fans when the New York Mets used his song “Summer’s Voice” for a memorial tribute to Bob Murphy, one of their original play-by-play announcers. (Yes, Arlon is a lifelong Mets fan. Yet another reason why I like the guy so much!)
The passion for making this a better world to live in is evident in many of Arlon’s songs. Twice selected by Noel Stookey (‘Paul’ of Peter, Paul, & Mary) and his Public Domain Foundation’s Music2Life competition, Arlon was invited to perform his song “Be the Change” for the Foundation’s showcase at the Kerrville Folk Festival. Based on a quote attributed to Gandhi, the song reminds us of the struggles of people like Gandhi and Rosa Parks and how we can help create changes for issues each of us face in our own lives.
In addition to writing inspiring songs that share the stories, hopes and dreams of life in America, Arlon gives back by performing for numerous benefits and events for causes such as the Hudson Valley Food Bank. When he decided to go public with his diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease, it was natural that Arlon would use his own story to help others.
Arlon was in his mid-40s when the signs of Parkinsons began to appear. He noticed that his fingers would stumble while playing the guitar, and he developed an anxiety about performing. He caught himself playing with two picks and realizing that he picked up the second pick because he could not feel the first pick in his hand. He also noticed that his right arm wasn’t swinging when he walked and his balance was off.