Power of music instrumental in intellectually disabled care
by By LUCIE R. WILLSIE Associate Editor
Oct 01, 2012 | 2224 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Personality Profile
DR. CORKY ALEXANDER, director of instruction and music services at Life Bridges since 2006, holds an activities group every Wednesday open to both clients and staff alike. Banner photo, LUCIE R. WILLSIE
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“You stick your left foot in ... You stick your left foot out ... You do the hokey pokey and shake it all about ... And you turn yourself around and shake it all about ... And that’s what it’s all about,” the song played as arms and legs and heads bobbed up and down and around and around.

It was difficult to tell who was having more fun, the clients or the staff.

“She’ll be coming round the mountain when she comes,” was another song that caused a gleeful reaction.

Shoo, hush, skip, hop and jump, and on and on and on it went.

The gaiety just seemed to accelerate exponentially.

This joyous song-and-dance session happens every Wednesday at Life Bridges.

Roughly 50-plus usually join in the festivities, including singing, dancing, conga lines and generally just a whole lot of fun.

That’s when Dr. Corky (Jack L. Jr.) Alexander, the director of instruction and music services at Life Bridges since 2006, invites anyone interested for an hour of musical fun and activity. In the same year, Alexander established a music program at Life Bridges for its clients who are mostly intellectually disabled.

The reason? Because, as science has explained, the left side of the brain governs such activities as talking, eating and writing. Singing is controlled by the right side of the brain.

“When you go from speaking to singing,” Alexander said, “a person switches from the left to the right side of the brain.”

This helps intellectually disabled clients not only improve their blood circulation and strengthen their breathing, it also makes them happy. It also allows their minds to absorb and process information almost subliminally, helping all of their thought processes.

And Alexander knows exactly what the power of music can do. When he was 11, his mother died. At that time, his sister introduced him to the music of the Beatles to help him emotionally with the death of their mom by becoming involved in nonverbal activities. Music has been his emotional safe haven ever since.

“But I am not a music therapist,” he emphasized. “I just do music activities or services ... I utilize music movement and rhythm activities to help meet cognitive, physical, emotional and social outcomes ... I do it with sing-alongs I lead, and dance, rhythm instruments, like drums, shakers and other instruments.”

Alexander plays the guitar, the piano, the organ, the bass guitar, the drums and the mandolin, as well as “dabbling” with others.

But Alexander also has developed a “scarf program” which uses silk scarves, waved in rhythm to the music, to foster movement — up and down, over the head, throw and catch, side circles — that gets folks exercising without really noticing it. He even has scarf CDs for sale to the public, not just for use at Life Bridges. He also has his other recorded music available on iTunes.

And, Alexander is the music director of two Life Bridges music ensembles — one, the Bridges Trio, which sings both popular and church music and performs for church groups and civic organizations (six performances a week); and two, the Life Bridge Ensemble, which is mostly a gospel group which also will soon be performing around the county.

Born in Atlanta on March 3, 1954, Alexander has lived in or visited states all across this country, from North Carolina to Rhode Island, Wyoming and California, and from the United Kingdom to Peru, Jamaica, Bolivia and Honduras. He’s lived in East Tennessee since 1995, and now lives in Loudon. Dropping out of high school the first time around to play music, Alexander started a rock band back in the 1960s. He was the lead guitarist in various bands.

“I was in the middle of the counterculture,” he said. “But then (around 1974) I became a Christian.”

Soon after, he started playing in Southern gospel groups, as well as started producing Christian rock music. And, since 1977, he became a pastor — a pastor who also was a musician. He met his wife, Kimberly, now a Ph.D. professor of historical theology at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va., at a Pentecostal church in 1976. After they got married, they ministered across the country for 26 years, planting churches all over the U.S., and focusing upon work on Native American reservations.

The Alexanders have three daughters.

Daughter Hope is married to a pastor at the Vertical Church in Chesapeake, Va., and has two sons, Lex and Cole, and is expecting a third.

Daughter Emma and her husband are worship leaders at The Ramp in Hamilton, Ala. They also are now expecting a child.

Daughter Leslie is a junior at the University of Tennessee at Martin majoring in animal science. She also is a cowgirl on the UT-Martin rodeo team.

During this time, in 1983, he also enrolled at Lee University (college, back then) for a bachelor’s, graduating in 1986 with a degree in Biblical education. In 1995, he enrolled in a master’s program at The Church of God’s Pentecostal Theological Seminary in Cleveland, graduating in 2001. He last served as a pastor at the Dutch Valley Church of God in Knoxville. He got his doctorate in 2010 in missiology, the study of practical theology that investigates the message and mission of the Christian church, as well as the nature of missionary work.

“My doctoral dissertation was involving the music practices of Native Americans,” Alexander said. Alexander has found out there is a great need for ministry among Native Americans. “That’s why I also am here at Life Bridges. ... There are large pockets of underserved Native Americans here in the U.S.”

But he still travels, and has during the past decades, across the country.

“I just got back from the Crow Fair,” he said. “It’s the largest Indian Pow-Wow around.”

He traveled there to do therapeutic drumming. In October, he plans on making a trip to Bear Battle, S.D., for a prayer ceremony and to visit with an elder, J.C. “High Eagle” Elliot, who has been his longtime friend.

“We will play music together,” he said. “Guitars and flutes, mostly.”

Since getting his doctorate, Alexander has been even more seriously involved in Native American cultures than ever before, helping to develop ministries, as well as educational and health care programs.

He also serves as an adjunct online faculty teacher at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary in Cleveland.

But where did this pastor get the name “Corky?”

Alexander explains it this way: he was named after the character of Corky in the TV show “Circus Boy,” said Dr. “Corky,” as he is fondly known.

Interestingly — this Corky character was played by the actor named Mickey Braddock at the time, who would become, as Micky Dolenz, one of the famous members of The Monkees, the made-for TV pop/rock band. The name seemed to suit Corky, er, Jack L. Jr., Alexander’s official given name. Everybody now still calls the doc Corky, to this day.

But Alexander is also an author.

“My book just came out a few weeks ago,” he said. It can be found at www.amaz on.com/Corky-Alexander/e/B 0094K31DU.

It is called “Native American Pentecost: Praxis, Contextuali-zation, Transformation.” (Clevel-and: Cherohala Press, 2012)

He is also a contributor to the books “Remembering Jamestown: Hard Questions About Christian Mission,” and “From Aldersgate to Azusa Street: Wesleyan, Holiness and Pentecostal Visions of the New Creation.”

He also authored the article “The Evangelistic Legacy of the Klaudt Indian Family.”

Alexander can also be reached on Facebook and his music is on Reverbnation.