I have this man to thank for my career in music therapy. Dr. John Sinclair, or “Doc” as everyone calls him, was the head of the music department at Rollins College during my undergraduate years, and still is today. He directed the ensembles in which I sang, and I had him as a professor for several classes.
But it was one particular class he taught that changed my path; I can’t remember the name of it, but I remember the pivotal assignment. Doc asked us to choose a career in the music field and write an in-depth research paper on it. I was a vocal performance major, and had dreams of becoming a professional singer. But I wanted to learn about something new, so I did a Google search for “careers in music”. Music therapy was one of the top hits.
I read everything I could on the internet about music therapy that day, and on Monday morning, I went straight to Dr. Sinclair’s office. “Doc, I know what I’m going to write my paper about, and I’ve found my future career!” It turns out that Doc knew all about music therapy, and offered to contact a music therapist he knew who had just moved to the Orlando area.
A week later, I had written my paper and begun job shadowing his music therapist friend. I watched her in action at a nursing home, with private students taking adapted lessons, and with an early childhood group. She told me all about her coursework as a music therapy student, and spent hours answering all of my questions. I was even more convinced that music therapy was for me.
I was in the second semester of my sophomore year at the time, and couldn’t stand the thought of waiting another year and a half to graduate and go on to grad school for music therapy. So when my advisor told me that I had enough credits to graduate after the first semester of my junior year, I only hesitated a little. Did I really want to leave college — my friends, my sorority, this beautiful campus — 1.5 years early? It was hard, and I got a lot of flack from my friends, but I did it anyway.
I applied to and was accepted at several schools in Florida, including FSU and University of Miami. But in the end, I returned to Illinois and ended up an hour north of my home, at Illinois State University. I was sad to be back in the cold; however, I couldn’t pass up a full ride to graduate school. It ended up being worth it, though, since it was at ISU where I fell in love with my now-husband :)
So that’s my story of finding music therapy. I was inspired by similar stories shared by my colleagues, including Nat Mullis and others. What’s your story — whether you found music therapy or another career for which you were meant?
I found music therapy in a couple of places. I about a year ago I was working at Massacusetts General Hospital for a non-profit called Senior HealthWISE as their Administrative Assistant. I worked with Social Workers, Nurses, and Case Workers serving the geriatric population in Boston. I had already graduated from the Boston Convservatory in Vocal Performance but wasn’t interested in pursing a career in performance. I really loved the idea of social work but I wanted to stay with music in some way. At this point I had not heard of music therapy. Also during this time my grandmother was dying of melanoma cancer that had matastisized to her brain and lungs. In her last weeks she was admitted to Hope Hospice near Naples, Florida. She was visited by a music therapist and I was able to see the positive effects of music therapy on my memaw. I was amazed and new that this is what I wanted to do with my life, so six months after my grandmother passed away I was already in school working toward a Master’s in Music Therapy!! I love every minute of it and I am certain I want to work in hospice care when I graduate.
Hi Ashley. Thanks so much for sharing your story. My grandmother was my source of inspiration, too — she suffered from Alzheimer’s for 13 years and music was the only thing that could still make her happy. I’m sure they are both smiling with pride down at us now!
I found music therapy when looking up music careers. I love music and helping people and this profession is perfect for me. I get to shadow this summer and I’m excited.
That’s great, Kasey! Best of luck to you :)
I have a degree in Education. I’ve always known I would be a teacher. I thought I would always be a classroom teacher but I only did that for 10 years. I now work with babies and young children and run my own music & movement school.
I imagine my own early childhood years shaped my intuitive and empathic ability to be present with people with special challenges. I had 2 sisters, both with special needs, and one with such severe challenges she lived full-time in a children’s hospital. I spent much of my childhood assisting, observing and existing with unusual life circumstances.
I read very briefly about music therapy in the library at university and thought it sounded intense. I felt called to be a teacher and not a therapist. In those days (about 30 years ago) music therapy was very “fringe”. It wasn’t something encouraged or pursued by many and there were few obvious employment opportunities. It would have been very difficult to shadow one and so I did not have really any clue about that field other than the judgments I made on my own.
If I had had more info and someone to watch or talk with, I think I would have studied and become a certified music therapist. My personality seems more suited to the sort of focus a music therapist has than a music educator or music performer has. I think this may be why my business has been successful…working with babies and very young children requires a huge dose of developmental knowledge combined with people skill.
Much of my teaching career has actually been spent doing very music-therapyish-type things. I accrued 2 specialty teaching areas while completing my education degree, one as a special needs teacher and one as a music teacher.
Somehow, I naturally combined my knowledge of the two areas, particularly after leaving the school system to run my own school. The children’s hospitals in our area would refer children to my programs because I seemed to have “a way” with special needs children (the term “special needs” was the politically correct term in those days). After a few years, I had a bit of a rep in the community and other teachers and families in the community would seek me out for support with their children.
I ended up working with children diagnosed with autism, Asperger’s, brain damage and those suffering from a variety of abuses as well as children with terminal illness. I have been invited to work on therapeutic teams with other children’s therapists because of all this. I have become adept at writing comprehensive evaluations for music therapy purposes. I found it’s similar to writing a report card but each one takes much longer.
Even as a classroom teacher, I would find every September my classes would be heavily loaded with the “eccentric” and “challenged” children. I once questioned another teacher about this and she told me they (the other teachers on staff) would always give me the kids with learning problems and other challenges because they knew I would do everything in my power to get them the support they needed and that I would “love them anyway”. That may have contributed to my deciding to leave and “just teach music”.:)
I left the school system 18 years ago, and it’s only been in the last year that I made a conscious decision NOT to work further as an alternative-type music teacher/therapist. I have asked the hospitals not to refer to me. I am now mostly focused on the “average” child and family. There are several board-certified music therapists in our town now. I encourage families to contact those professionals.
Life can take you to places you have no idea or plan to go to sometimes. I am lucky to love what I do and to have been able to make a living being joyful and playing with music and children. I feel lucky to have found this online community of music therapists too because I can really relate to the work you do!
I know this is a long comment, Rachel, so don’t feel you must publish it! I felt it would be good for me to write this as an acknowledgment of where I am now in my own professional development. Thanks for the opportunity to do that!
Susan, of COURSE I published your comment! What an interesting and lovely story — thanks so much for sharing it. In fact, it should be a blog post on Make Me Musical.
I am a high school senior interested in job shadowing a person in Music Therapy. Is there a listing of places that are available for this in Pennsylvania? Any help would be greatly appreciated.
This is great — thanks for sharing your story! Isn’t it wonderful how things work out?!
I am the MT who visited Ashley’s Memaw and I am so glad to have helped :)