Students use medicinal music to help others

Kayla Trail

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Some students use music to escape reality, while some students use music to help others in need of alleviation and comfort.

Western offers this major to students who are wanting to make a difference by helping others, whether they be children who need help calming down or adults who suffer with memory loss or depression, using music.

Director of the music major program and certified music therapist, Jennifer Jones, shared what music therapy majors do and how the music variety can range from country to blues.

“They learn every type of music in the whole wide world,” Jones said. “They start off as a music major and most of our musicians at Western are classically trained. It’s a really wide music curriculum. We have to know a lot of different musical things.”

Students are required to do a 6-month internship, in which they work hands with patients along with a professional therapist for 40 hours a week.

Sam McDowell, is a music major that graduated from Western last semester and is currently living down in Florida for his internship. McDowell is currently interning at a hospice company in Palm Beach, Florida.

“The journey has been a slew of new experiences,” McDowell said. “My internship is fantastic and I work with amazing people. I visit patients in facilities and homes that are on hospice care and help reduce their pain, anxiety, agitation, or help them with coping and grieving.”

McDowell shared that he helps anyone, including the patient’s family with relief by ways of music.

“I play music with them, and for them sometimes,” McDowell said. “I’m trained in counseling techniques and often the music is used as a doorway for me to be able to support them with verbal counseling. Sometimes I am there to see the family more than I am the patient. Each and every day and each and every patient is different.”

Jones said that for patients who suffer from illnesses and diseases, it is important for music therapy majors to focus on their needs through music that calms them.

“When you have a mental illness, especially if it’s severe symptoms, you need things that help you kind of reinvent life,” Jones said. “And (to) get you motivated to move forward and to work into your recovery and music therapy is often a group (where) people will come tow hen they’re not interested in going to their verbal therapy.”

“We are growing,” Jones said. “Every year that number goes up. I think more people know it’s a profession and realize that when they’re in high school where they’re contemplating careers and they want to be in a therapy profession. But music has been such an important part of their life that there is a way to marry those two and not to leave one or the other behind.”

Western graduate, Alisabeth Hopper is also in the middle of her internship located in Springfield, Illinois.

“My internship is through a small music therapy practice,” Hopper said. “They work with all ages and their care includes typical lessons, adaptive lessons for students who would like to learn an instrument but have more needs than a typical student, mommy and me music classes, exploratory music classes, must therapy groups and private music therapy sessions.”

Hopper says that becoming a music therapist for her isn’t just a major or career choice; it’s a way of life.

“It completely overwhelms your life, floods your mind with infinite information about everything you thought you knew about your passion because art has no bounds,” Hopper said. “There is something about performing a piece that you love, it’s that moment where your heart wells up and through your music your audience can know you. Sharing in music is an intimate experience. I think that is one more reason why music lends itself to a therapeutic context, but also why it is important to seek a board certified music therapist. I love that music, and music therapy specifically gives me the evidence based knowledge to move forward and create moments that affect people in the most beautiful way, I love what I do.”