Saturday, August 29, 2009

Bongo Barry

I heard yesterday that a colleague, Barry Bernstein, passed away on Wednesday morning. Barry was an acquaintance of mine from my undergraduate days who remembered me 15 years later when we met at Camp Encourage this summer. We played a little music and led a campfire over the 4 days of camp. I was impressed and inspired by the things that he did with the campers. My thoughts and prayers are with his family as they mourn the loss of their father and husband.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


I am challenged by having to explain Altshuler's Iso-Principle to someone who is a music therapist, but who has never heard the term before. This challenge is one that I will undertake, mainly because I think the Iso-principle is one of the most essential tenets in music therapy theory. It amazes me how many music therapists have never heard of the principle or who have not heard about Altshuler.

The iso-principle, as I understand it, explains that people will pay attention to music that best matches the mood they are in at any given time. An agitated person will respond better to music that he or she associates with agitation (e.g., "angry music") better than music that does not have an association with that particular emotion. Engagement in the music therapy procedure or technique will be quicker if the therapist shapes the music to the individual's emotion rather than attempting to shape the individual's emotion to music the therapist thinks will be best. Once you engage the individual in attending to the music, you can change elements of the music to vector the first emotion into a different emotion.

I use this idea often with my students on the Autism Spectrum. An agitated student may come to me wandering around the music room, unable to sit down, and having difficulty attending to external stimuli (my voice, for example). To engage the student, I often stop talking altogether and sit down at the piano. I improvise a song that has a tempo matching the speed and rhythm of the client's movements around the room. When the client stops, I stop. I am attempting to engage the client in recognizing my presence through the music - external stimulus. Once the client starts to show signs of engagement, I start to change my musical contribution to the environment. I play different patterns when the client moves in different manners. I change my meter to see if the client will change his or her movements to match. I change tonal centers, melodic contour, and dynamics to further engage the client in the environment. This pattern of engagement and adaptation continues until the client is less agitated and paying attention to the music and, by extension, to me.

I often find that the choice of music is not as important as the form of the music. My clients do not engage in music more if the music is familiar to them if the form of the music does not match their internal tempo or emotion. If clients do respond best to a particular song, the song presentation has to change to initially engage their attention. A client who responds to A Whole New World from the Disney movie, Aladdin, will often respond more quickly when agitated when the therapist sings the song faster than the recording.

Maybe we call the iso-principle engagement these days. I think that engagement requires conscious participation on the part of the client rather than the iso-principle which may not require as much conscious awareness.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Pipe Dreams

I bought lotto tickets today. The jackpot is up to $213 million, and my dad likes the idea of buying chances when the jackpot gets that high. So, I have been escaping into fantasies of what I would do with a portion with the money.

The first thing I would do is give my parents a portion for their retirement. They could pay off the house, take a trip, and stop working! Mom could finally craft and garden all the time, and Dad could drive her crazy!!!

The second thing that I would do would be to split up the rest of the money into retirement accounts for myself and my siblings. With my part, I would buy this gorgeous complex that is for sale across the street from my facility. It is an old convent with beautiful buildings. I would like to turn it into a conference and retreat center. We would offer CMTEs on a monthly basis. It would be a good challenge.

Aaah. Now all I have to do is win tomorrow. Won't happen, but I am having fun dreaming about it.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Creative Flow

There are times when I have a rush of ideas that just come flowing out of me. It usually coincides with the full moon - imagine that - but I become almost manic when it comes to creating interventions, cleaning my home, and thinking of new things that I "should" be doing during my time away from work.

I am currently writing this blog entry, but I did many other things today. I washed dishes and cleaned off my countertops in the kitchen, washed my bedding, made homemade cards, learned about my new music notation program, wrote a couple of Therapeutic Musical Experiences, emailed my academic advisor with several projects, enrolled for field studies at school, paid tuition, and annoyed the cat. My day is not finished. For the first time in weeks, I did not feel like I wanted to take a nap at 3pm.

The downside of this upswing is the new moon period. I have always (according to my mother who has known me the longest) had mood swings that followed the waxing and waning of the moon. When the moon is dark, I have less energy and creativity. It is interesting to track the times when I compose and when I struggle. I wish I could bottle the extra energy for use during the dry periods.

Off to do something else - more song ideas are floating around my head. Gotta get them down in the computer.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009


I love camp. I love everything about it. The mosquitoes, the sunburns, the shaving cream fights, the interrupted sleep - it's all good! I spent four days in the company of 45 campers and approximately the same number of staff at Camp Encourage. This camp is a place for kids ages 8-18 on the Asperger's side of the Autism Spectrum and some typically developing peers to be away from their family, to act like kids, and make friends.

I have to say that I originally thought that I would be going to camp to run music therapy sessions. When I attended the orientation session, I found that that was not so. I was assigned to "assist" the other music therapistst that were attending camp. I was disappointed, but was able to get the camp director to agree to let me lead one session during the last day of camp.

Once I got to camp, I found that, in addition to music therapy and arts and crafts, I was a general go-fer. I spent lots of time taking things from here to there, tracking down specific people, and running from one side of the camp to another. I loved every moment!

The best thing about camp is the way that kids learn. Kids went to the zipline and zipped from a tree platform 30 feet above the ground. Kids who cried when their families left them at camp spent little to no time fretting about their families as they were zipping around. They went to the pool, participated in the campfire, threw things into the fire, and pondered the mystery of the gum tree. They covered themselves and quite a few others with shaving cream. They talked to complete strangers. They gorged themselves on the very good food and then got sick. They attended science, arts and crafts, and music therapy. They played Yu-Gi-Oh and Star Wars Trivia to their hearts' content. It was a great four days.

I'm going back. Back to camp, where I am sure that I will be allowed to run music therapy sessions from now on.