The Joys of Performing


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!


My First Week of Co-leading

This week I began co-leading classes and sessions. “Co-leading” means that I have to plan my own activity to lead for each class and individual MT session. Let me just say that I never thought I could learn so much in 1 week. I also never thought that my first time leading activities would be so scary and stressful! Yes, I was ready to jump in and start participating, but more goes into planning just one activity than I realized. Thoughts ran through my head like “What if I mess up?”, “What if this doesn’t do ____ any good at all?”,  and “What if the residents hate it?” But one more thing I realized: it’s ok if I mess up; this is a learning experience. Ain’t nobody got time for stupid worries!

After receiving helpful feedback from my internship director, I thought I would share with you some of the activities I did this week and what I should have done differently.


President 1st Name Game.

This activity was done with the older retirement group at the Baddour Center. Since Monday was President’s Day, my ID planned a president/patriotic-themed session. The game I planned for them was to write on the white-board the 3 most common first names of U.S. past presidents (James, John, and William). I divided the group in to two teams, and they took turns naming all of the president’s last names. The team who could get the most names got to sing the song of their choice.

What I would have done differently:
When I got up to lead them in the game, sometimes all I could think about was how quiet it was. I know they needed time to think about their answers, but I don’t like silence, so I probably will add some patriotic background music if I use this activity again. Also, I might create a board in which I reveal all the correct answers as they are named, instead of writing them on the board. I could just use the board to keep tally of the scores.


Tap Tap Your Rhythm Sticks

This is a great music therapy song by Rachel Rambach ( It can be used with various populations and is adaptable for groups or individuals. The song basically instructs the client/resident to tap their rhythm sticks loud and soft, but you can add in lots of other adjectives (fast, slow, ect.). I used this activity in an individual session with a resident whose goals include increasing attention span and impulse control. The resident (we will call him M) has trouble with following directions and many times during his session, M will say “I wanna go eat cookies on the couch.” So if we can get him to complete an activity without him interrupting and have him engaged and listening, then we will have made progress.

What I would have done differently:

Before I began, I asked M to demonstrate tapping his rhythm sticks loud and soft, which he was able to do. But when I sang the song, he tapped along, but didn’t understand the concept of loud and soft when I prompted him. My ID suggested that I try a different activity that requires him to respond quicker so that he doesn’t lose focus in the song.


I Went Down To The River

Ever since my sophomore year of college, this has been one of my signature activities. This was one of the silly call-and-response chants we did at cheer camp when we had some down-time, and I’ve always loved its spunk and silliness. I decided to do it on a whim with a group at a music therapy conference and it was a hit.  It’s a great creative movement activity for gross motor skills, following directions, and group involvement. The group I did this with was the Open Music class, which means any resident could come to the group and participate. Since that day was National Pet Day (who knew?), I thought an activity that had to do with an animal would go along with the theme of the session. The chant goes something like this:

I went down to the river,

and I took a little walk,

I came across some turkeys,

and we had a little talk.

I washed that turkey,

and I hung him on the line.

I said we can meet some turkeys,

oh any ole time!

What I would have done differently:

Although the residents were somewhat familiar with this activity, some of them seemed a bit confused on what the motions were and what to repeat. Next time I will review the motions and words with them before I begin to eliminate any confusion. Although the residents caught on to doing the chant loudly and softly, my ID also suggested that I give verbal cues to how I was going to do the chant next (fast, slow, ect.)


My week of co-leading also included a cowboy-themed group sing-a-long, an individual piano improvisation, and a Sandi Patty song (the resident is crazy about her). I am less than a month away from fully leading sessions (aaahhhh!), so hopefully I will take what I will learn in these next few weeks and apply it when I have a full case-load. There is much to be done and prepare for, but I am looking forward to finally jumping in and utilizing what I’ve learned these past four-and-a-half years!


This week wraps up my 6th week of internship, and it has been quite a busy one. We’ve had both Fat Tuesday and Valentine’s Day-themed sessions, a Valentine’s dance tonight, and this is the last week I have of observations because I begin co-leading next week! Though that is a lot to think about on its own, one thing seems to be on my mind this week over and over again: home.

Most people my age experience moving away from their families when they go to college, but as WCU was only 30 minutes away from my home, I never fully experienced that because home was a short drive away. This is probably the longest I have ever been without going to visit Runnelstown, much less Hattiesburg. I’ve never been the type of person to get extremely homesick, and I have a more independent personality so am just fine being alone. But this week I couldn’t help but to be thinking of my family and friends down South.

View of the tornado from Hardy Street

View of the tornado from Hardy Street

If you have seen the news this week, you’ve probably heard about the tornado that rampaged through South MS this past Sunday. My family was thankfully left unscathed, but several people I know have lost their homes, churches, and parts of their school. Although my William Carey was left unharmed, Southern Miss was not so fortunate. It’s been a rough week for my hometown, and I hate that I could not be there to help everyone pick up after the devastating mess. It is so bad that President Obama declared it a major disaster for Forrest and Lamar counties. It is a miracle that there were no fatalities (praise God!). I am also thankful that South Mississippi is one of the most giving and generous areas of the country, so I know that they will clean up and rebuild in no time!

A heartbreaking image of the devastation to USM's campus

A heartbreaking image of the devastation to USM’s campus

Being homesick is something that everyone experiences sometimes. Although the Baddour Center is home to all the residents, they will still tell me about going “home, home”. Many of them live in different states all over the US and only get to visit once or twice a year. If you are an intern or music therapist, you may be dealing with a client or patient who struggles with being homesick from time to time. You have also probably experienced being homesick yourself at some point in your life. So here are my Top 10 songs to use in sessions (or as personal therapy) that have “home” as the common theme:

1.”Home” by Michael Buble
2. “Who Says You Can’t Go Home” by Bon Jovi
3. “I’m Going Home” by Daughtry
4. “Country Roads” by John Denver
5. “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynard Skynard
6. “The Long and Winding Road” by The Beatles
7. “Green Green Grass of Home”
8. “Homesick” by Mercy Me
9. The House That Built Me” by Miranda Lambert
10. “Home” by Phillip Phillips

Several of the songs on this list have certainly lifted my spirits when I have thought about missing home. They can be used in a variety of different activities such as lyric analysis, songwriting, and improv. Have you ever done an activity or session that addressed homesickness? Have you ever dealt with homesickness yourself as an intern or at a new job? I would love to hear your ideas/stories!

Hattiesburg, Oak Grove and Petal are still recovering from the disastrous tornado that hit on Feb. 10. If you are interested in helping, you can make an online donation at

The Importance of Goals

Many people don’t realize that music therapy is a goal-driven practice. Goals are the purpose, drive, and method behind the madness. Having goals is what sets us apart from the misconception of what some think we do: just “singing to people to make them feel better”. The type of goals we have for our clients also sets us apart from music educators. A music teacher’s objectives may be something like “name the years and composers of the Baroque period”, whereas a music therapist’s goals may be “increase response to verbal cues” or “improve motor functioning skills”. When the goals set by the music therapist are achieved, the MT will then document the progress of the patient/client, thus showing the effectiveness of music therapy interventions.

Goals are not only important in music therapy; they are important to have in life. Think about where you are right now: you are either here because a) you set a goal a few years ago and worked hard to get here, b) are in the process of attaining some goal you are striving for, c) a combination of a and b, or d) you are not here by choice, and are either happy or unhappy about it. Setting goals for ourselves allows us to shape who and what we want to be, and if we don’t have goals, we have no life-purpose.

If you are a music therapist or MT student, you probably already know the value of reaching goals, both personally and in your practice. Internship is HUGE time of growth and goal-setting in a baby music therapist’s journey. One of the purposes of this blog is to document my progress during my internship experience, so I thought I might share with you some personal and professional goals I have for myself. Some of these goals I hope to have accomplished by the end of my internship, and others I hope to have accomplished in the next few years.

By the end of my internship, I hope to:

-Create a “Big Ole Book” filled with activities and categorized by goal-area, population, and activity type.

-Create my own assessment and progress note form.

-Successfully document the effectiveness of my music therapy sessions when I get my own case-load.

-Decide where and when I wanna do grad school.

-Look and apply for jobs.

-Get back down to my “pageant weight”, which is 15 lbs lighter. (This may not seem to have much to do with music therapy, but being healthy and physically fit is a very important part of being a good therapist, and feeling energized and good about yourself is just as important for your client’s well-being as it is your own.)

By this time next year, I hope to:

-Be a Board Certified Music Therapist!

-Have a job somewhere (hopefully working as a music therapist)

-Be applying/auditioning for grad schools.

-Run in some type of marathon.

Within the next few years, I hope to:

-Help the state of Mississippi enact legislation for music therapy licensure.

-Have a music therapy association established in Mississippi.

-Establish a music therapy internship site (because you can never have too many of those!).

-Present at Regional or National conference.

-Have a master’s degree and possibly a doctorate.

-Contribute in some way to a published journal article or research project.

These goals serve as motivators and guidance in my present life choices. Over the years my goals may change and morph into something completely different, but right now the future as I see it is very bright for my career and the field of music therapy. I may not reach all of my goals I set for myself, but that’s ok. The sky is the limit, and that is very exciting! I cannot wait to meet future clients, advocate for music therapy in my state, and further my education and clinical practice.

If you are a student, intern, or even professional, I encourage you to set goals for yourself and create a “treatment plan” for your own life. I also encourage you to document your progress by journaling or blogging, which can be a great tool for self-reflection and even a form of therapy for yourself.

What are some things you would like to accomplish in the next few years? What are some goals in the past that you have already come to achieve? I would love to hear from you!

Lessons I’ve Learned So Far

It’s so hard to believe that I’m almost through my first month as an intern at the Baddour Center! I have absolutely loved it so far; this is exactly where I need to be. I have spent this first month mostly observing classes and sessions, so I thought I might share with you what I have learned at this point in my internship experience.

Lesson 1: Expect the Unexpected
No two days are ever the same, which is one of the reasons I am in love with this line of work. So how am I to prepare for something I don’t even know is coming my way? Just “roll with the punches”. The great thing about music and art is its spontaneity. Allow your residents/clients the freedom to be creative. If a resident wants to come to your office and seranade you with a little George Strait, let them.

Lesson 2: Think Like a Music Therapist
Although observing doesn’t seem like much, it is an important part of a budding music therapist’s growth experience. Observation is the time an intern has to think “What would I do if I were in the therapist’s shoes? How would I handle this situation?” Also, think about why the therapist chose a particular activity or course of action. Is it to address a certain need? To correct a behavior problem? Constantly asking yourself these questions prepares you for future practice.

Lesson 3: It’s OK to Not Be Perfect
“Perfectionist” is a word many of us use to describe ourselves, especially if you are a musician. As artists, we were born with a undeniable desire to work and practice and stress and strive to remove as many flaws from our art as possibly possible. But one of the big differences in music therapy and music teaching is that perfection is not a goal. The main focus here is to ensure that the quality of life for each resident is the best it can possibly be, and sometimes that excludes “perfection”.

I have learned so much already, but I still have a loooong way to go. I am very excited to continue this journey and see how much more I can grow in this experience. This has been an exciting whirlwind of a month, and I am looking forward to the next five months at the Baddour Center!

So what are some lessons you’ve learned in your music therapy internship? Have any tips as an intern director or professional? I would love to hear your thoughts with a comment!

Music Therapy Advocacy and…Beauty Pageants?

So I’m jumping on the blogosphere bandwagon here; I present to you The Music Therapy Diva’s Official Music Therapy Advocacy Blogpost! January is Music Therapy Advoacy Month, and many music therapists around the country are using social media to get the word out about the awesomeness and effectiveness of music therapy. Facebook has been buzzing with a little video parody of “Somebody That I Used To Know” (thanks George Center!), and Twitter is seeing hashtags like #LoveMusicTherapy, #MTAdvocacy, and #FollowMTweek (thanks Ben Folds!). But what does music therapy advocacy have to do with beauty pageants?

The recent crowning of Miss America last weekend made me reflect on my own past experience with pageants and how that gave me the opportunity to advocate for my chosen field and soon-to-be profession. In the past, pageantry has gotten a lot of flack for seeming “superficial”. A young woman with a Vaseline-plastered smile chattering on about world peace is the image that comes to most people’s minds when they hear the term “beauty pageant”. But these pageants are far more than fake tans and hair extensions. These girls work hard to pursue their education while making a difference in their world, all while looking gorgeous and maintaining a swimsuit-ready figure. As music therapy advocates, we can use pageantry to promote our cause. Not sure how? Keep reading.

My Experience As a Beauty Queen and Advocate


My sophomore year of college, I was privileged and honored to hold the title of Miss William Carey University 2010. I entered and won the pageant at WCU, which qualified me to compete in the prestigious Miss Mississippi pageant. As a preliminary pageant to Miss America, the competition involved a talent portion, evening wear, on-stage question, swimsuit (in front of everyone, ick!), and, often hailed as the most important part, an interview portion. One other very important component (although unjudged) is the personal platform of the contestant, in which she uses her year of reign to promote awareness and dedicate her time to an issue or need she feels is relevant in today’s society.


My chosen platform that year was Music Therapy for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities. What a mouthful, right? And the media always seemed to choose a different name for it, such as “Music Education for the Mentally Disabled” (wha?). One even went so far as to print “Musical Therapy” as my platform. As much as I love musical theater, I don’t think I would go around for a year promoting musicals as a form of therapy for individuals diagnosed with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

But anyway, enough of my soapbox.


In addition to riding in parades, signing autographs, and waving and smiling, I got the opportunity to use my crown to create awareness of music therapy (specifically in Mississippi) and its effectiveness for my chosen population.  I volunteered at area elementary schools and lead group music activities for their Special Education classes, giving their teachers a “taste” of what music therapy is and does. I spoke at a local Rotary luncheon about the importance of using music therapy with individuals with developmental disabilities (but not before I passed out instruments and sang “The Crawdad Song” to begin my presentation). But the biggest way that I advocated for music therapy that year was simply by answering the question “So what is your platform?”, which led to the more commonly heard question “What is music therapy?” During my interview, the judges were interested in my platform as well, and if they didn’t know what music therapy was before the interview, they certainly knew what it was after. I even got the opportunity to talk to a former Miss America about music therapy!

How You Can Help

I am so thankful that the Miss America Organization gave me the opportunity to advocate for my future profession. I encourage any girl between the ages of 17-24 to compete in the Miss America Scholarship Program not only to get money for school, but to use it as a way to advocate for music therapy. Even if you don’t choose music therapy as your platform, having music therapy as your major will invoke lots of questions about. Use your interview to put in a “plug” for music therapy, especially if your chosen platform can benefit from MT services. Although the platform concept is unique to the MAO, most other pageant systems emphasize community service, so I encourage any young woman who is interested in competing in pageants to go for it!

If you aren’t an unmarried female who falls in that age range, I encourage you to seek out local AND state title holders with a music-related platform (there is at least one girl around the country every year with a platform specific to music therapy). Reach out and talk to them, find their blog or website, ask for ways you can donate your time or money, or even give them the opportunity to donate their time to you. Titleholders are always looking for new ways they can speak or get community service hours relating to their platform. And usually when a person with a crown talks, people listen.

You don’t have to be or know a beauty queen to be an advocate; there are TONS of ways to advocate for music therapy as a student, intern, or professional. The links to some blog posts below give many wonderful ideas of things you can do right now to get the word out about music therapy!

All links were taken from

To find your state and local titleholders, visit

Feel free to leave thoughts, questions, suggestions, or comments!

A Little About the Baddour Center and Music Therapy

Although many of you who read my blog posts may already be established music therapy professionals, interns, or students, a lot of you may have no idea what music therapy or the Baddour Center is. It seems that no matter where I go or who I speak with, when I say ” I’m a music therapy intern at the Baddour Center”, the response is either a blank stare followed by ” Oh….neat!”, or “What is music therapy? What is the Baddour Center?” So in this post, I will answer a few questions that I get often in hopes that you will know a little more about my internship and future profession.

1. What is music therapy?

For some reason, I am temporarily stumped when asked this question, even though it’s the question I get asked the most! The American Music Therapy Association defines music therapy as ” the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.” It is a valid healthcare profession, and there’s TONS of scientific studies proving its effectiveness (exciting, right!?). When asked this question, I usually say something along the lines of “although it sounds like I teach music, I help others reach non-musical goals using a variety of musical methods.” I usually follow that with an example, such as using the Hokey Pokey to teach the difference between left and right. There is a need for music therapy in all kinds of populations, from children with communication disorders to senior citizens in a nursing home. The wonderful thing about music therapy is its adaptability.

2. What is The Baddour Center?

The Baddour Center is a residential community for adults with a diagnosis of mild to moderate intellectual disabilities. It is private (meaning NO government funding) and non-profit, serving more than 150 adults from all over the country. The residents have opportunities to work, participate in various community activities (my department), and receive services that help each individual reach his/her fullest and brightest potential. The Baddour Center is “committed to giving men and women the opportunity for lives of dignity, joy and hope. Through the dedication and support of family and friends, residents accomplish goals, enjoy lifelong friendships, and realize their greatest potential in every area of life.”

3. What will you be doing at The Baddour Center?

As the music therapy intern, I will have many opportunities to utilize the performing and creative arts to help the residents reach their goals of personal growth. I will get to choreograph dance routines, help with art projects, lead group games and activities, work with Baddour’s travelling choir The Miracles, help with the Spring play, and eventually have a full caseload of residents for individual music therapy sessions. The Baddour Center employs the Person Centered Planning approach, which means that each individual’s goals, strengths, and needs are put as Priority #1. What this means for the Music Therapy department at TBC is that we see what the residents want for themselves, then use music to help them achieve their goals. Music therapy is not forced, nor is it trying to “fix” an individual’s weakness. It is looking at what he/she is good at, then giving him/her the opportunity to grow and shine!

4. What is an intellectual disability?

“Intellectual disability” is the term formally known as “mentally retarted”. As society has changed, so must the term for the developmental disability. Persons with intellectual disabilities have a lower than average I.Q. score and difficulties with adaptive behavior skills. This can be a result of birth defects, environmental factors, mutation in certain genes, and other contributing factors. The diagnoses are mild, moderate, severe, and profound based on I.Q. and abilities to adapt behaviorally.The Baddour Center is for persons with a diagnosis of mild and moderate intellectual disabilities. Some diagnoses represented at TBC are Down syndrome, William’s syndrome, Fragile X syndrome, Autism, and other developmental disabilities.

5. How long will you be at TBC? What are your plans after?

I will be at Baddour until the end of June. AMTA requires that all music therapy students undergo a six-month clinical internship upon graduation. I will graduate from William Carey in August 2013, probably take a month or so to prepare for the board exam, pass the CBMT exam (hopefully!), then become Katelyn Farris, MT-BC. Grad school is definitely in my future, but I am not sure exactly when and where. I would love to get at least a year of experience as a practicing music therapist before I decide what field of graduate music therapy I want to pursue.

Hopefully I have answered some of your questions. Please feel free to ask me anything at If you would like more information on The Baddour Center, music therapy or becoming a music therapist, feel free to ask or visit or

Hello and Welcome!

Let me begin my first blog post by introducing myself. My name is Katelyn Farris, a 22 year-old music therapy student at William Carey University in Hattiesburg, MS. My hometown is Runnelstown, MS (haven’t heard of it? It’s about 30 miles outside of Hattiesburg, MS).I have lived there all of my 22 years until about a week ago when I moved from the Deep South to Southaven, MS (about 10 minutes south of Memphis). Upon completing all coursework at an accredited university, the American Music Therapy Association requires that a six-month internship under the supervision of a Board Certified Music Therapist be completed. My internship is at The Baddour Center in Senatobia, MS, a residential community for adults with mild and moderate intellectual disabilities. This past week was my first week, and I absolutely LOVE it so far. I look forward the next six months of my life, and I wll be sharing my experiences with you, my readers.

 One of my assignments as part of my internship is to keep a journal of some sorts on my experience as an intern, so here it is! Through this blog, I hope to connect with other interns and professionals in my field, share what I have learned as an intern and future music therapist, and hopefully give any insight I gain through experience. Internship is a HUGE part of growth in a music therapists’ journey, and this blog will document that growth. Thank you for reading, and stay tuned for more adventures!