Archive for Monday, October 4, 1999

BODY OF WORK

October 4, 1999

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A local woman's diverse skills in holistic medicine and music make her a true jack of all trades.

How many Rolfer-harpist-carillonneurs can there be in town?

It's a good bet Elaine Brewer's the only one.

A few words of explanation are probably needed here, since "harpist" is the only part of her resume most folks would easily recognize.

Brewer is a certified advanced Rolfer, a specialist who's been intensively trained to perform a kind of body work vaguely akin to massage. There are only seven people in Kansas qualified to do the level of therapy she offers.

She's been a performing harpist since she was 12 and is now a harp instructor at Kansas University.

And Brewer also studies weekly with Albert Gerken, KU's carillonneur. (A carillonneur is a musician who plays a carillon, a set of fixed bells, as Gerken's done at KU for many years.)

Oh, and in her spare time -- what there is of it -- she's a big-time gardener, filling the front yard of her Lawrence home with a cascade of blooms.

She and her husband, John Brewer -- a technical writer who works in Lenexa -- have four sons.

Their children are: Joshua, 26, based in San Francisco and serving in the Coast Guard; Noah, 20, an art school student in Cleveland; Robert, 17, a senior at Free State High School; and Christopher, 13, an eighth-grader at Central Junior High School.

Career change

Brewer got interested in Rolfing -- named for Dr. Ida Rolf, the therapy's pioneer -- about 15 years ago when she got carpal tunnel syndrome in one of her wrists.

She went to see a certified advanced Rolfer for treatment.

"I got Rolfed instead of having surgery. It solved the problem, as well as getting rid of lower back pain I'd had for years. So I thought, 'Wow.'"

At the time, Brewer was giving private piano lessons in the evenings to Lawrence children and was looking for a career change. She wanted to work in the daytime instead, so she could spend more time with her sons.

Learning how to Rolf -- and give massage therapy -- felt like a good path to take.

"One day your body is pain free, and you start to wonder how you can help other people," she said.

Rolfers use their fingers, knuckles, palms, forearms and elbows to manipulate the body's fascia -- the connective tissue wrapped around muscles.

"It's not deep massage. It's organizing one's structure so that it interacts more efficiently with gravity," she explained.

"That's what I love about Rolfing. You look at the whole body, not just one part. It's more useful for solving long-term, chronic complaints."

Brewer has been a massage therapist for 14 years and a Rolfer for nine years.

A new client typically comes in for a series of 10 sessions, each one focusing on a different area of the body.

Many of her clients suffer from repetitive stress injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis. She also treats a number of athletes and dancers -- "people who use their bodies for their sport or their art."

The positive results of Rolfing can last for years, she said. After a series of 10 sessions, Brewer noted, some clients even stand a half-inch taller.

Studied in Paris

When she's not Rolfing, Brewer's harping at KU, where she started instructing six students this fall.

"I like teaching. I've been playing the harp for 36 years, and I enjoy assisting people learn a new skill," she said.

Brewer -- from Lorraine, in Ellsworth County -- earned a bachelor's degree in music in 1972 from Wichita State University and a master's in harp performance in 1978 from KU.

She has performed in two national competitions sponsored by the American Harp Society: one in 1969 at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y.; and another in 1972 in San Diego.

In 1970, Brewer toured with the American Youth Symphony and Chorus, playing concerts in 10 European nations.

When she was 21, Brewer spent six months in Paris studying with Lily Laskine, at that time "the grand dame of the harp world."

So how does a small-town Kansan get to study the harp in Paris?

"You practice a lot," she said, chuckling.

Brewer doesn't perform much now -- "just a few gigs a year" accompanying church choirs or playing with local chamber music groups.

But you can hear her give a carillon recital on the KU Campanile at 3 p.m. Oct. 24., in which she'll play music by Haydn and local composer John Pozdro.

For all the world to hear

She's been playing one carillon recital each semester at KU the last two years.

"I enjoy studying carillon for several reasons," Brewer said.

"Professor Gerken's a fantastic teacher. It's challenging to learn a new skill. And climbing seven flights of stairs each morning eliminates the need for a Stairmaster."

Brewer's been studying with Gerken for three years now, getting up early to practice.

It's tough playing an instrument, she said, that exposes any slip-ups she might make to the whole campus.

"I don't want people to hear me make a mistake and say, 'Who is that playing the carillon?'"

In the time not taken up by harp students, lessons on the carillon and Rolfing clients, Brewer loves to work in her garden. Pictures of her abundant front and back yards decorate her office.

"In the spring, all my DNA from farming ancestors comes out. I have to put my hands in the dirt and dig," she said. "It's exhilarating."

It's a full life, with little time to just unwind.

Brewer said sometimes it's like juggling plates on sticks.

"You just hope you don't have -- in one week -- a harp gig, a carillon recital, 30 clients in the office and 60 bags of mulch to spread."

-- Jim Baker's phone message number is 832-7173; his e-mail address is jbaker@ljworld.com.

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