Music therapists are first and foremost musicians and artists. Not many people who go into this field began if they had no musical talent or ability. Music skills are REQUIRED for the job. If you know a music therapist, they probably began taking lessons at a young age, or got a late start like I did. They may have played guitar throughout high school, or taken piano since the age of three. They may have been a band member or part of their elementary and high school choir. Then as they pursued music in college, they were required to take lessons on a primary and secondary instrument. They worked hard (or maybe not) perfecting their craft, putting precious time and effort into something that lasts maybe 3 minutes and 30 seconds. Why? For the sheer love of performing. Performing music is a form of expression and release for a musician, as musicians were created to have their music be heard. It’s only healthy for a musician to find outlets for their art.
Although my performance career started at age four when I sang songs from “The Lion King” in Pizza Hut, my true musical journey began high school as I developed a love for classical music and the opera. The first opera I ever saw was “Carmen” when I was 16, and I’ve been hooked ever since. When I decided I wanted to pursue music therapy in college, I began to take voice lessons as a senior in high school. The man who taught me performed with Placido Domingo, worked with Igor Stravinsky and Leonard Bernstein, and founded the Hattiesburg Civic Lights Opera, so he had a legitimate love for classical singing which he instilled in me. I carried that love into college when I chose voice as my primary instrument of study. I worked hard on my technique, and eventually sang classically as my Miss Mississippi talent, competed in some classical voice competitions, got lead roles in WCU opera and musical theater productions, and sang with the Carey Chorale. During college, I was performing almost all the time and I loved it!
I got the opportunity this week to put on a mini concert for the residents and staff at the Baddour Center. I did not know how much I’ve missed performing classical literature and musical theater. In music therapy activities, there is no room to be a performer, because the most important person in the music therapy session is the client. Perfection in music while in therapy sessions is not as important as the music itself being a medium for therapy. The goal is not to be pleasing to the ears (although that is an important part of music therapy). So getting to perform pieces that I’ve worked on throughout my college years for the residents was a great treat!
Whatever your musical journey has been as a music therapy major, intern, or professional, I encourage you to find a way to perform for someone that has nothing to do with your job. I’ve always heard that it’s important to have music that is “yours”, that you selfishly listen to in your down-time and don’t use in therapy sessions. In that same sense, it’s also important to perform for yourself. Become part of a local ensemble. Agree to sing that solo in church. Start a band, even if you only play in the garage. Even singing karaoke can be invigorating! Whatever your instrument or style of music, make sure you keep on growing as a musician, for yourself and your profession. Performance can be a much needed form of therapy for the therapist!