Media Reviews

Ben Folds joining up with Americans for the Arts for Advocacy Day 2012

Coming up in a few short weeks is Arts Advocacy Day on capitol hill on April 16 and 17. One of my personal favorites, Ben Folds, is speaking up for the need to support the arts in education and also advocating for music therapy.  Check out this brief piece, Ben Folds to Perform During Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy on April 16 in Washington, D.C, to get a sense of what’s happening. 

I have been a fan of Ben Folds for a long time now.  In fact I remember when my close friend Sean Hickey, composer and classical music exec, played Ben Folds Five for me the first time.  He noticed how this little ensemble rocked harder with an acoustic piano and fuzzy bass sound than anyone we had heard in a long time.  I couldn’t have agreed more.  Then I started to listen to his lyrics.  I heard the cutting wit, self depreciating candor, true to life story-telling, mixed in with the sometimes mesmerizing and often rocking, always no-nonscence musical lines and melodies.  To be clear, I do not know Ben Folds – what a day that would be – but through his intensely personal music making, I feel I have a connection to him the way that I know many people do.  This is a beautiful thing, when you connect to your audience in such an authentic way.  I can only assume that making music for Mr. Folds has been a process of discovery and self exploration.  What a gift.

Discover and self exploration.  Hmmm.  Sounds pretty good for a music therapy session. 

Until next time, may you be surrounded by the loveliness of the world.

Making Music

You want ME to be the conductor?!

I’ve been invited to work with a group of women singers and instrumentalists to lead an ensemble in a performance for a large audience – an audience used to a very high quality musical experience.  Not only am I deeply honored and excited to participate in this ensemble, I have taken on the responsibility of selecting and arranging the pieces from recordings as well.  And let me clarify, this is not a music therapy project, instead a grand artistic leap for me as a musician and music-based storyteller working with “typical” adult music lovers.

To say the least, I am pushing my musical boundaries.  Within my comfort zone is playing gigs with a few friends where we rehearse the tunes to death via relaxed and fun rehearsal processes.  Within my comfort zone is encouraging whatever music to come out of people, and celebrate that small victory.  That’s my job, essentially, as a music therapist.  Being responsible for the product to be consumed for aesthetic quality and artistic presentation with a group is a new challenge that I have upheld with the bands I’ve performed with, but not larger groups.  It is exciting to say the least, and intensely invigorating.  I come home from rehearsal needing at least an hour or two to cool down for sleep.

Not only am I helping people to access music to transform their lives in music therapy, I am being transformed personally by meeting and facing this new artistic challenge.  This growth process is fascinating, and feels a lot like being strapped to a train.  Maybe more like swimming in a lake at night for the first time — you know it is going to be great, and still, a bit scary!

Ohward ho to new musical adventures – it is fodder for a great life.  That, I know for sure.

So, my question for you…   How have you stretched yourself, artistically or otherwise?  After all, isn’t getting through this life an act of faith and creativity in itself?

May you have sweet lullabies to send you off to sleep each night.

Media Reviews, Music Therapy

Music therapy in early childhood classrooms

I wanted to share with you an article published in January on the Huffington Post.  Ronna Kaplan, recent Past President of the American Music Therapy Association, opens a door for us and gives readers a view inside the classroom for young students with different abilities.  In her article, “Music Therapy in Early Childhood Classrooms” she does a nice job of describing what you might see in a classroom session, and why. 

When I read the article, I reflected upon how music can be shaped to be the carrier of information for learners of different sensory needs and skill levels.  Often kids with “special needs” have disparities in levels of functioning.  This means they might struggle intensely with one thing, and be really quite talented at another.  Using music to help kids learn essential academic concepts, as well as therapeutic concepts for communication, psychosocial health, and motor planning are an often non-threatening and fun ways to approach learning and goal achievement.  Through music therapy, music can be the tool to access strengths to illucidate the lesson or task being taught. 

So when kids have challenges in getting something accomplished, wrapping the content in music might just be the thing that will help get the concept understood and integrated.


Magical Moments

Coping with hospitalization

I met with a child earlier this week.  My goal was to help her cope with being in the hospital after her surgery.

It became quickly apparent to me that this child had a great sense of rhythm, so we spent a good deal of time playing the hand drums together.  Call and response, echoing, having a musical conversation….  Then we found a rhythm together and sang a repeated phrase back and forth while drumming.  I invited her mother to join in the music making with us, and we discussed the drumming traditions her mom grew up with in Africa.

At the end of the session her mother commented that she had been nothing but stress for three days now.  This was the best she had felt since her arrival.

Funny how my goal of “coping” may have been even more effective for this child’s mom.  I was happy to help this family find a few precious moments of laughter and connection together.

Media Reviews, Music Therapy

PBS Newshour spotlight on music therapy

Welcome to another piece on one of my favorite subjects – music therapy.  Take a few minutes to check out this great overview “The Healing Power of Music” aired on February 27th on PBS’s Newshour with Jim Lehrer.

The video captures a snapshot of treating persons with brain injuries and medical complexities through music therapy.  This includes a bit about Gabrielle Giffords’ music therapy treatment, a bit about brain science and the neuropathways developed by engaging in active music therapy, and some nice case examples.  Meet a young man with muscular dystrophy whose music therapist is using music to enhance his mood and help him cope with hospitalization, a group of children drumming together in the hospital, a group of stroke survivors, and a view of a music therapist addressing veteran’s health and rehabilitation.  They have also included soothing patients enduring cancer therapies, and how music can aid in alleviating depression in the elderly.  Musicians reflected how participating in music and enjoying being in the moment through dancing or singing can be therapeutic.  When coupled with the skill of a music therapist, the therapeutic relationship and addressing non-musical goals can be transformative.

When I watched the videos and considered the commentary, I, of course, reflected on my own work as a music therapist.  Music recreation, music appreciation — these are all imperatives for all persons, “healthy” or otherwise.  What seems to make my work so different from music education and music appreciation with persons with a variety of needs, is that I look to uncover moments of transformation.  It is not about me, it is not about the music that is coming out of my heart, hands, and voice.  It is about what my client is going to do with it, and how I can support that client in being changed somehow.    In this liminal space, that moment of insight, that moment when the hand reaches out to interact, that moment when the smile is undeniably connected to what I am offering, is when that relationship is solidified and goals are addressed.  I and my fellow music therapists often don’t care what the client’s music sounds like — it is what the music brings to them that makes those moments of transformation possible.

Enjoy the news story.  I look forward to hearing from you and reading your comments.