My Story – Music Therapy

I told you last week how excited I was when I returned from the Midwest Regional conference of the American Music Therapy Association in Iowa. I also promised more info about music therapy. So I thought I would start with my story. Why I chose music therapy as a career. How I discovered music therapy. Why I can’t see myself NOT being a music therapist.

When I was in high school, I was involved in any and every music group that I could be in. I loved playing my flute and piccolo in bands, orchestras, contests, etc. I was in groups that played in Europe, Carnegie Hall, the National Flute Conventions, etc. I loved it. So it was natural for me to study music in college. I thought my choices were music performance or music education. I never saw myself as a band director, so I went the performance route. I studied flute performance at the University of Wisconsin – Whitewater, which was an hour from my home. 
I loved it there. I loved my classes, my professors, the music experience. It was all great. But there was always that voice in the back of my mind that wasn’t completely convinced that I wanted to continue to spend 4-6 hours alone in a little practice room the rest of my life, perfecting my skills. Performing was very self-gratifying. But I always wondered if there was something else that I could do with my talent that would give back in different ways.

I started to get a little burned out of the whole practice and performing thing around my junior year at UWW. I was practicing less, and then feeling guilty about it. I wasn’t content. It was around that time, that another friend in the flute studio told me about music therapy. I was intrigued. She didn’t have a lot of info for me but did explain that music therapy uses music in healthcare. How cool! So I started digging around as much as I could. This was in the late 90s and the internet wasn’t too accessible yet. I was intrigued enough though, to make the decision to apply to graduate schools that had both a good flute program (something I was always planning to do) but also some sort of music therapy program. I ended up at the University of Iowa, which as you probably read from my above post about my MT conference, that it was the BEST choice for so many reasons!! (and the MT program there is one of the best in the country, which I didn’t know at the time!)

When I arrived in Iowa City in 1999, I was nervous. I was accepted into a competitive flute program with an awesome flute professor, Tadeu Coelho. Tadeu will tell you himself how demanding he was on his students. Don’t get me wrong, he was a lot of fun too. We all enjoyed being a part of his studio and learned so much from him. But the expectations and the requirements were quite high, leaving no time for me to explore music therapy. So the first year of my masters program, I didn’t. 

And then a light flickered….

Tadeu sent the flute studio an email just as my second year was beginning. Apparently some of the flute students (not me, but I was thankful that this happened!) told Tadeu that his requirements were too much. ( a solo recital every semester, among other things) He thought about it and decided to make some requirements optional! I couldn’t believe it. I ran into my friend and fellow flute player, Kimberly Sena-Moore, in the music listening library that day. I will never forget that conversation. Kimberly was also studying music therapy. That was the primary reason she was in Iowa. So I picked her brain about the program. She was the reason I decided to go to talk to Dr. Kate Gfeller, one of the MT professors.

I started taking MT classes that week. I had missed the first couple, but that was ok. I will never forget my very first music therapy class with Dr. Gfeller. It was Intro to Music Therapy and she was showing a video of a music therapist working with an older adult group in a nursing home. My jaw must have been on the floor the entire time I was watching. I had never seen anything like that and I was amazed at how the therapist used music to get the positive responses she did from the group. They were smiling, singing, doing movement/exercise! It was SO cool, I thought! “I want to do that!!!”

The light bulb went on that day for MT and it has never dimmed. 
I went on to finish my masters in flute. I was half way done, after all. But also went full force into my music therapy classes and absolutely loved it. I completed the equivalency degree in music therapy two years later and then went onto my 6-month clinical internship in California, working with people with developmental disabilities at a state-run developmental center. I will talk more about some of that in a future post.
So there you have it! My music therapy beginnings. I hope this post has been interesting and perhaps helpful to other students considering a music therapy career. You can learn more about the profession on the American Music Therapy Association website 

Thanks for reading and have a great day!!


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