“You have to find the silver lining in the crazy things that happen to you in life.” That’s a motto everyone can live by, but it’s been Courtney Platt’s ethos ever since she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2012. She’s now in remission, but as a past contestant on So You Think You Can Dance and a performer since she was a child, the artist’s first questions were “Will I be able to dance, and what does this mean for my movement?”
Thankfully, her doctor told her exactly what she needed to hear: not only would she still be able to dance—it was imperative that she continued. At first, she built her own playlists to listen to and get moving. Some allowed her to just sit in her feelings while others demanded she activate her inner beast mode.
Then she stumbled across MSinHarmony.com. The website hosts licensed music therapists as they lead video exercises focusing on the body, mind, and spirit for those dealing with the symptoms—physical and emotional—of MS. Now, Platt is partnering with the organization. Yes, those playlists are now on the site, and as a student, she's appearing in virtual exercise videos that get people moving whether through dancing, singing, or breathing. “I really enjoyed having different tools that music therapists provided me with, so I am thankful to [them] because they led the way [to feeling better],” says Platt.
Before all this, though, Platt found a band of family supporters upon her diagnosis, including husband Jonah Platt (Wicked) and brother-in-law Ben Platt. Now, the latter has joined her as a student in some of the virtual classes showcasing (what else?) singing exercises.
“I just did what I could to be a good example giver and an A-student, as it were, and luckily a lot of the things really lent themselves to what I already love to do in terms of vocal warming up, and using songs and mnemonic devices and using breath and breath control to calm your body,” says the Dear Evan Hansen Tony winner. “Things I'm super familiar with in my own life thankfully lined up with the modules that I got to do.”
While Ben Platt’s exercise selection was a no-brainer, Courtney Platt’s were a little more outside of her comfort zone. “In one of the modules, I had to sing. It was listing things about yourself that you like and then putting them into a song. I definitely wouldn't have chosen [to do] that one, but I'm glad I did. Sometimes we don't choose to recognize the good qualities in ourselves...and it's a lot easier to rip ourselves apart than it is to build ourselves up.” In another module, the Glee alum shakes off bad vibes by having a solo dance party.
MSinHarmony.com's videos aren’t just for people who struggle with the neurodegenerative disorder. “With my own anxiety and just as a human being, I've always found that music can change my mood and calm me down,” says Ben Platt. “It gets me focused and centered so I connect with this therapy just as my own person.” It’s rare, too, the star says that such a program can bridge the gap of isolation that comes on both sides: as a supporter and as a person with the illness.
It’s important that people know how integral a support system is when dealing with MS. “As human beings, when dealing with something we're not familiar with, the safer thing is to avoid confrontation or conversation… If it's someone you love and they're dealing with something that's chronic like [this,] it’s important to jump in,” says Ben Platt. “[There are] modules that you can experience as a family—MS can be a very lonely place,” adds Courtney Platt.
Since revealing her diagnosis, people reach out at least twice a week asking if they can connect her to someone who has just received some bad news. “They say ‘so-and-so’s sister-in-law's daughter was just diagnosed, would you mind talking to them?’ So to be able to give them advice and share the experiences has been a gift…. Nobody gets out of life unscathed, it's how you deal with it and who you surround yourself with and the connections you make that matter.”
Check out Ben Platt and teacher Betsy Hartman, MT-BC, in “Singing to Strengthen Speech” below. To learn more about MSinHarmony, click here.