Kara DioGuardi’s Visit Inspires Teens

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

Last week, the teens at our Phoenix House Academy of Westchester welcomed a very special visitor: Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter Kara DioGuardi. In addition to her many musical achievements, DioGuardi is also the creator of our pioneering Phoenix Rising Music Program, which gives clients the opportunity to compose, perform, and record their own original music in our state-of-the-art recording studios.

“Kara’s visit was a real treat for the kids,” says Music Studio Director Marc Smith, “because they got to see how truly invested she is in the music program.” DioGuardi and her family members took a tour of the Academy, and she spent time talking with the kids and answering their questions. She discussed the many roles she currently plays in the music industry – from composer to producer to engineer – as well as her own past experience with addiction. At the end of her visit, she and the teens shared their music with each other. “Some of the kids sang or rapped their original work,” explains Smith, “and Kara performed a song she co-wrote for Pink called ‘Sober.’ The meaning of the song really hit home for these kids.”

DioGuardi was delighted to see how far the music program has come since its inception two years ago; Smith and the teens have recorded more than an album’s worth of music, and they have recently added video editing to the studio’s capabilities. “It’s such a valuable therapeutic outlet for the kids,” says Smith. “Before they came here, many of these teens had only rapped or made music while high on drugs. Now, they’re surprised how good they are when they’re sober—this is when their true talents shine. They love the music program, and they’re eager to get in and keep at it.” Admittance to the program is merit-based, so it acts as a reward and motivates the teens to excel academically as well as in their clinical treatment programs.

When they first join the music program, many of the young clients are shy and apologetic. “They’re used to being admonished or criticized if they’re not perfect at something,” explains Smith, “but that’s not the case here. Instead, kids offer each other constructive critiques, and encourage each other to keep trying.” Many clients have never received this kind of encouragement before coming to Phoenix House, and it helps them gain confidence in themselves as well as in their recovery. When they graduate from the Academy, they leave with a sense of pride and achievement, with the confidence that they, like DioGuardi, can overcome their personal obstacles and succeed. “Music helps these kids learn patience and prioritize long-term goals,” adds Smith. “It’s totally different from the instant gratification they used to get from drugs. Music slows down those destructive impulses and helps kids focus on productivity, creativity, learning, and healthy self-expression.”

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