Betsy Bevan

Sound Bites: A Q&A with Teaching Artist Betsy Bevan

In Blog, Creativity, MfP Stories, Teaching Music Improv by jan_mfp

Betsy Bevan was getting over a breakup in 1990, when she decided to attend a workshop by Music for People (MfP) co-founder David Darling at Upstate New York’s Omega Institute. “When I called, there was one spot left,” remembers the North Carolina-based musician and artist. “It was serendipitous. By the end of the workshop, I was no longer depressed about my breakup.” 

Bevan subsequently enrolled in MfP’s Musicianship and Leadership Program and then spent five years as an MfP staffer. Today, she is one of MfP’s leading presenters, fluent in expressive arts and improvisation. 

The Eastman-trained composer discovered child-directed “process art” in the mid-1990s. “I am a self-taught artist who loves the process of getting my colors, lines and images out on paper and canvas,” says Bevan, also an experienced music educator. “My painting reflects my immediate emotions and musical interest in rhythmic patterns and color motifs.”

Love in the Meadow by Betsy Bevan

Bevan’s discovery of art coincided with the brief loss of her hearing, stemming from a virus. “Most of us never know our full potential because the inner critic stops us at a certain point in our creative endeavors,” she adds. “I am thrilled to explore and share my truest voice through creativity.”

We recently caught up with the Greensboro resident to discuss the importance of authentic self-expression.

People are still talking about your session at last month’s MfP’s “SummerBreeze” workshop. What was it like? 
We started making lines and colors on paper, using the upcoming Summer Solstice as a prompt, and then added words to our art. Afterward, we improvised on our instruments while looking at our art. The integrated process was deep and connective and seemed to work as well online as in person.

Is there a particular modality you prefer?
I love them all—music, art, writing, dance—and I’ve been an avid Zen meditator for years. I see them as ways to self-discovery, paths to my more authentic self. 

I like to experience the combination of these modes and share the process with others. Music for People, along with studies at the Expressive Arts Institute [in Sarasota], has given me the confidence to facilitate groups. 

What advice do you have for educators interested in incorporating the arts into their curricula?
Be curious. Be willing to explore creativity with your students. You can start simply with a crayon or marker and a piece of paper. Follow what your body wants to do—a gesture and then go from there. Or start with a sigh and stretch it into a held sound. Then maybe tap or clap a pattern. You can also hand students something to touch or feel, like a stone or some cloth.

Don’t think about the end result—just enjoy the process. Explore.

What about teachers or students who don’t think they’re creative?
Through the arts, we see more of ourselves—in line and color, in movement, and in sound and worlds. It’s fascinating, this journey of discovering ourselves. There are no right or wrong ways to create and experiment like a child. I recommend having a Zen beginner’s mind, not knowing what you’re doing or what the outcome will be.

Do you think your hearing loss was an act of grace?
I think so. At one point, I went to Arizona, where I underwent the Tomatis method, using musical recordings to stimulate the vagus nerve. I’ve always been into alternative medicine, and this experience helped me access more creativity. From there, I started drawing and painting with a passion and, a few years later, sold my first piece of art.

Betsy Bevan - In Nature

Who or what inspires you?
Listening to and being in nature, feeling the sensuality of the world around me—the wind, trees, sky, light and color. 

The poetry of Rumi inspires me. When I read his work, I often hear music and write it out. I love ethnic music and contemporary composers, like Ravel and Stravinsky. I’m always looking at books about art and dance and enjoy dancers like Martha Graham, Merce Cunnigham and Rudolf Nureyev.

I’m all about tapping into my creative energy and stimulating personal growth.