Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Composing Songs

On Monday, I was running a sensory session with some children and tweens when I started to improvise a "play with me" song. The song was effective in that it elicited the desired response and appeared to be highly attractive to my clients. As I was singing, I kept thinking that I needed to remember this song for my composition files.

Fast forward to the end of the day.

I finally had an opportunity to sit down at the computer to notate the song.

It was gone.

I have composed many songs in the moment - improvised to make the session goals work. Lots of those songs were wonderful, lots were not so wonderful, but they are all gone into the vapor of my mind.

Now, I know that I could interrupt the session to note down the song. I know I could record every session so I would have all of my songs ready to be translated into music. I can't do either of those things. So, I am resigned to composing wonderful songs but losing them when the moment is gone. Sigh.

Well, time to go to work. I should be on track to write several songs today. Hopefully they will be easily remembered and fixed. We shall see.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Shameless Product Promotion

This year at AMTA, I was the winner of a chance drawing. I won five YOUROCK guitars. Now, out of all of the things that I put a ticket towards, these guitars were the last choice that I made and seemed to be the least interesting for me, but I have changed my mind.

 My package arrived at my music therapy clinic yesterday and contained my new instruments. Now, when I first saw these, I thought they were just for playing Guitar Hero, but then I started to examine the box more carefully.

These are actually electric guitars with MIDI capability, synthesizer presets, and gaming capabilities.

I work with adolescents (and some children, but mostly adolescents) who are enamored by the thought of an electric guitar. They are interested in guitars in general, but really interested in electric guitars. I have not had one that is in working condition since I moved to this job, and I have always told my students that I can't afford to get as many as I would need for my group music lessons. This event changed all that talk forever.

Anyway, back to the shameless product promotion that this blog entry is named for...

I took my first guitar out of the box to see what was going on with the instrument. I found some batteries, put them in, turned it on...and nothing. I went to the instruction book (which should have been read first, but I was excited) and found that the guitar did not play on its own. I plugged it into the amplifier and "Voila." Music came out, beautiful, rich, and electric! I played around for some time and tried to get my students interested. They were not impressed, but that particular group of adolescents is not often interested in what I show them - they prefer to choose their own instruments. The next group was much more interested - boding well for the rest of my students.

I have not completely read the instruction manual, so I am still learning about what I can do with these instruments, but I can tell you that I am now seeing lots of advertisements for these things -, thinkgeek, and other websites are promoting the YOUROCK guitars this year. I can tell you that my excitement over winning these instruments just continues to grow as I can start to see lots of things that I can do with students in my music therapy practice.

Sorry for the shameless plug, but I think these things are really going to open up new horizons for my clients and for me as well.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Focusing on Developmental Levels

I have been thinking about developmental levels for a time now.

I work with children and adolescents with developmental and psychiatric disorders for a while now. In my career, I have moved through several philosophical views, but have always returned to the idea of focusing on meaningful interactions based on the clients' developmental levels.

Recently my facility's population has started to swing towards kids severely involved on the autism spectrum. With these kids especially, developmental milestones are essential when attempting to establish a therapeutic relationship. It is important to understand where a child is on the developmental scale in order to design interactions that are meaningful to the client. If I am asking an adolescent boy to play call-response patterns when he is really in the stage of free play and sensory interaction, neither of us will be satisfied with the result of the session.

I have found a couple of good books that I hope will strengthen my therapeutic relationships with my students. I will post more on these books when I unpack my box from the conference (which I will not receive until Monday). I am looking forward to remembering what I have forgotten about developmental music therapy. In the meantime, I will observe my clients and their responses to the music experiences I initiate.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thankful Things

Yesterday was the American holiday of Thanksgiving, and many folks posted about things they were thankful for. I decided to wait until today for the completely practical reason that I was not around my computer all day yesterday.

Today I am thankful for the community of music therapists that I spent some time with a week ago. The American Music Therapy Association national conference in Atlanta last week was a wonderful experience for me. I do not always come away from the conference as refreshed and invigorated as I did with this one, but I always go to the conference looking for inspiration.

I am thankful for my clients. Those children have gone through experiences that many of us would have nightmares about, and yet they still manage to play, sing, learn, and find good things in life. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to help them in their journey through life.

I am always thankful for my family.

I am thankful that I am a music therapist - someone who has the responsibility to use music to help others gain their life goals. I am thankful that there exists a community of music therapists who also use music to help others gain their life goals. I am thankful for researchers who take the time to establish the profession as an evidence-based science. I am thankful for the clinicians who are in the trenches day after day, using the research to benefit clients of all shapes, sizes, and ability levels.

Thank you, all.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Winding Down

The American Music Therapy Association's national conference is coming to a close. This conference has been a tremendous experience and has been so refreshing to me in so many ways.

I have actually met many of the people that I have engaged with in a purely online format. This has been interesting. I have talked to these folks many times via meeting software and emails, but have never seen them face-to-face before now. I am always interested in how tall or short they are, what their voices actually sound like, and if we will get along differently when we see each other in person. (We did.)

The themes of this conference seemed to be looking towards the future, developing leadership, and thinking about moving to the Master's-level entry into the profession. For me, one of the best moments was during the keynote speech when Ken Bruscia appeared to be saying that we as therapists HAVE to be inclusive of all others - even those therapists who have different philosophical viewpoints from our own. This seemed to be at once obvious and then profound, especially when Dr. Bruscia said it.

Recently, I have had some struggles in my job that are not at all related to being a music therapist. The conference has been a good period of positive reinforcement for me - lots of affirming comments by therapists I respect that tell me that I can go back into my struggles with renewed commitment and a refreshed sense of what my role is at my facility.

I spoke to many music therapy students yesterday during the Internship Fair. Folks asked me great questions. I love working with students because they ask questions and honestly listen to the answers. They have the chance to explore the life of a music therapist from the beginning. They do. They inspire me.

Isn't this what conference is all about?

Thank you, music therapy friends.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Overwhelmed, Humbled, and Excited

All of these words are appropriate adjectives for how I am currently feeling.

This conference experience has been an extremely rewarding one so far, and the opening ceremony finished a mere 4 hours ago.

Let me explain further.

I arrived in Atlanta on Tuesday afternoon with my meeting schedule in hand. I have the privilege of being the chairperson of the Association Internship Approval Committee (AIAC) for the American Music Therapy Association, so I always get to start my conference before the conference officially starts. *CAVEAT - I am writing this entry at 1:53 am EST, so I apologize if I do not make much sense. I am not used to being up this late on a regular basis, but I really cannot get to sleep yet. I will rue this decision in 5 short hours from now...* Tuesday evening was spent in the company of my friend and long-time conference roommate, just catching up with each other after a year of emails and facebooking.

On Wednesday, I led the AIAC meeting. We met for 10 hours as a committee, talking about issues that are present in National Roster Internship programs, recognizing and celebrating our successes, and daring to dream about the future of music therapy education and clinical training. The seven women that I had the privilege (and it really is just that, a privilege) of working with were intelligent, open to new ideas, able to see the points of view of others, cognizant of the business that needed to be done, and demonstrated a level of professionalism that always manages to keep me in awe. We spent lots of time simply enjoying the work that we do for AMTA and enjoying each other as colleagues.

After another late night meeting, I spent some quiet time talking to family members before getting to sleep way past my regular bed time.

This morning started with a breakfast meeting and then preparation for a Continuing Music Therapy Education course sponsored by the AIAC. That was the end of the downtime on Thursday.

The CMTE went very well with everything just flowing the way it needed to. The meeting that I had to go to during my portion of the information ended just as I had to be back in the course to lead. Feedback from participants was very positive, especially those who had been in the course in years past. I had the opportunity to speak to several people who were willing to offer information and resources for us to use for the next year. The opening ceremony was inspiring (though I really wish we didn't have to stand up and sit down repeatedly).

During the Exhibit Spectacular, I bought 6 chance tickets and carefully placed 1 ticket in 6 different jars in an attempt to win instruments. I was just commenting to my friends that I rarely won anything while my sister always would win when my name was called. I won 5 YouRock Electric Guitars! These seem to be MIDI compatible, synthesizer, Game system guitars that allow for composition, free play, and learning. I am still in shock over actually winning something that will significantly change how I teach guitar skills to my students. Broken necked guitars NO MORE!

**NOTE: I actually started getting really cold at this point, so I caught 4 hours of sleep.** I am now continuing this later the same day. Maybe I will be more coherent!**

Today I heard Ken Bruscia talk about how music therapists have to be client-directed and willing to shift their focus from being outcome-based, evidence-based, or context-based completely dependent upon what the client needs rather than the THERAPIST'S preferred clinical viewpoint. I applauded him several times during the session. It was nice to hear a person who is revered in the field reiterate the concepts that I have discussed with others many times in different forums. Let's hope that we have finally gotten over the brou-ha-ha of the 70's and will be able to move towards our common goal of the use of music as a therapeutic modality to move clients towards their unique goals.

I am inspired. I am excited. I am ready to keep going...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Power of Music Therapy

In the past 24 hours, ABC news has run several stories on Gabrielle Giffords, congresswoman from Arizona, who was shot earlier this year. Her recovery has been tracked by her husband and by millions of well-wishers, but probably not as diligently as it has been tracked by the music therapy world. From the beginning of her rehabilitation process, music therapy has been a featured part of her recovery effort.

Representative Giffords has been an example of the rehabilitation process at its best. Her tenacity and courage has been trumpeted from coast to coast, and it is truly inspiring to hear her story and watch her progress. Her dedicated therapists (music as well as other professions) have helped her in this process from the beginning through to her present levels of functioning and will continue to challenge her to regain skills.

The amount of attention that the profession of music therapy has received this year around this woman's rehabilitation has been amazing. All of a sudden, the things that we, as music therapists, see everyday are big news. We have an excellent example of how music can offer alternate neurological processing centers as well as provide motivation and encourage practicing skills. All of a sudden, music therapy is starting to be seen and heard.

This week, American music therapists will be descending upon Atlanta, Georgia for our national conference. I expect that we will hear lots about Meaghan Morrow, the music therapist who has been featured in the news reports about Representative Giffords. I expect that we will be asked to continue the trend of this national attention to the benefits of music as a therapeutic modality. I expect that we will talk about the news articles on quite a bit as we gather together. We will continue to spread the power of music therapy one client at a time as we work, day after day, with all kinds of people in all areas of the world.

Sing out, music therapists, the world is starting to notice.

Monday, November 14, 2011


Where do you get inspired?

I am a person who finds inspiration in many, church, school, home, in a store, looking at catalogs, watching television, browsing the internet, etc. I have different places for different types of inspiration.

For the next week, I will be in Atlanta, Georgia in the company of about 1400 other music therapists and others interested in music as a therapeutic modality. This is a good place for inspiration, and I hope to be inspired by the people I meet in the course of the week. 

I do not get an opportunity to go to as many presentations as I used to see at conference. I tend to spend my registration money so I can sit in meetings, present things to the Assembly of Delegates, and offer training rather than getting to see what others are doing in my field. The short periods of time that I do get to go see someone is generally spent trying to nap or gather my thoughts for the next meeting that I have to attend. I am proud of the work that I do for the Association, but I miss the opportunity to attend concurrent sessions.

This year, I hope to be inspired.

More soon...

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Looking for the "what ifs"

What if music therapy education was completely based on the competencies?

What if music therapy clinical training was a full-time experience for music therapy students from the first day they walked into an academic program?

What if every music therapist in the United States was a member of the American Music Therapy Association?

What if music therapy was an essential part of all mental and physical health treatment and a consistent treatment modality in the education of all kids?

What would music therapy look like then?

I love thinking about "what ifs."

There is a certain amount of "what if" thought when you are going through a session with a client. I find myself consciously (and unconsciously) thinking "what if I sped this rhythm up a bit? What would 'Q' do then?" So, I try it. I then see what happens. I evaluate and make more decisions based on more "what if" statements.

Being open to the possibilities is important in both therapy sessions and in dreaming about the future of the profession.

I get bogged down in my expectations and in my comfort zone at times. I get into routines with my clients. I think I know the answers to all the "what ifs" that come into my mind. I am comfortable in my little therapy box, and I continue in that box for a time.

Unfortunately, staying in my box is not the best thing for my clients, myself, or for my professional role in my facility and in the community. I have to continuously challenge myself to step out of my comfort zone and into the world of "what ifs."

What if I sang every song in a different mode? What would happen then?

What if I didn't speak at all during sessions? What would happen then??

What if we, as music therapists, completely revised how we teach our skills to others?

What if we, as music therapists, dared to start from scratch? What would education, clinical training, and our role in human services look like then?

What if...

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Getting Excited...

I have planned my paraeducator-run music therapy sessions.

I have found all of the trinkets for my hard-working, dedicated committee members that I really enjoy working with throughout the year.

I have finished my presentation outlines.

I am almost finished with laundry, packing, and cleaning my room.

It is time.

Can you tell that I look forward to this every year? I really, really do! I am getting excited about seeing old friends, meeting some interesting professionals, seeing people that I have only ever "met" via social media, following celebrities around, talking to music therapy students, and working hard for the association. This upcoming week is going to be exhausting, but well worth the time, effort, and expense.

I have several goals for this year's conference.
  1. See Ben Folds somewhere.
  2. Finish 3 committee tasks and start 2 others.
  3. Find something cool to share with my clients after Thanksgiving.
  4. Buy something just for me.
  5. Go to a presentation that fires me up in some way.
  6. Talk to an interesting young professional about what I do.
I don't know how much I will be blogging during the next week, but I will try to write something. See you in Atlanta!

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Refreshment of the Best Kind

A week from today, I am traveling to Atlanta for the American Music Therapy Association National Conference.

I will be joining therapists from around the world in celebrating what we do best - helping others through music. Conference week will include lots of discussions, lots of meetings, lots of difficult decisions for the profession of music therapy. There will be some celebrities - Mickey Hart, Jodi Picoult, and Ben Folds are going to be there during the week. (I probably will get into conversations with these people and not have a CLUE who they are until someone tells me later - I am notoriously famous for finding out later that the people that talk to me are "names.") There will be many more friends, colleagues, mentors, and idols around than celebrities (thank goodness!).

I look forward to conference every year.

I insist on attending for the chance to be around therapists who do many things in their facilities that I never envisioned. I spend lots of time reevaluating my own therapeutic demeanor and engaging in the "wishing" part of my role as therapist. For example, "I wish I had the ability to see what was going on in my clients' brains." "I wish I could engage in formal research more." "I wish I could afford to buy all of these things for my kids."

I insist on attending for the opportunity to talk to other therapists who share my passion for music. I have met so many therapists who share some of the feelings that I have shared with you in this blog. Therapists who see the benefits of music everyday. Therapists who occasionally feel isolated or overwhelmed. Therapists who need refreshment as much as I do.

I will also be on the hunt for the perfect thing to bring back to my music therapy clinic. I spend so much time away from my work environment that I always bring back something tangible for my clients to see. This helps them understand that I was someplace else, learning about music therapy. I have found humongous triangles, a little bitty drum set, squeaky horses, harmony rattles, and lots of other things during my years. I will be on the lookout for the perfect addition to my instrument collection.

At the end of the week, I have the advantage of being close enough to family that I will be staying in Atlanta for my post-conference desperate need for sleep. I get to spend time with my grandmother who will trot out my aunt, cousins, great-aunts and uncles, and assorted second, third cousins. I hope that my brother and nephew will come down for some time to see me as well. This situation is perfect as I tend to be absolutely exhausted when conference is over. (I am getting more busy as my years in the association grow, so I have more obligations and less time to just enjoy conference.) I will get to sleep at Grandma's house. I will have a chance to just be a bit quiet there as well. Last year, I just sat during sessions in shock for the two days before the Thanksgiving break in a haze. I will skip that particular haze this year.

I hope you get a chance to attend a conference with your peers. It is important to network and meet others that share your views - or challenge those views.

I hope I get to meet you in Atlanta -

Mary Jane

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Health - Mental, Physical

You may have noticed that I have been blogging about current stressors present in my job at the moment. I have been thankful to have this forum as an outlet for some of my frustrations as writing has always been a cathartic experience for me. Seeing my feelings in word form often allows me to see patterns, twists, and paths to solutions. So, thank you for indulging my recent trend towards complaining.

While the situation has not been resolved yet, I have had to disconnect from the situation to help with my own health.

Friday was the day for the meeting with the teacher who has caused so much conflict in my life. The meeting was canceled, but I spent the night before the meeting in fitful sleep (typical for me when I'm stressed) and then spent the day in a blood pressure flush. I got home and found that my blood pressure was extremely high. 

It is interesting to me that I often feel that I hate my job when I am experiencing some physical health issues. Once the health issues are resolved, I am back to loving my life, especially my music therapy sessions. The physical has a direct effect on the mental - something that I do not always remember.

I am actually relieved to know that there is something going on with my health. It explains some of why I am tense, but there is an interesting chicken and egg conundrum here. Am I tense because my blood pressure is high? Or is my blood pressure high because I am in a situation that increases my stress level? Who knows.

All I know is that these two things are interconnected.

I am going to focus on relaxation as well as conflict resolution this week.

Here is the plan. I will spend a portion of everyday making music just for me. I will spend some time in deep breathing relaxation. I will take my medication. I will avoid situations that make me feel additional stress. I will enjoy the interactions that I have with students this week. I will find something to do daily that is out of the ordinary for me. 

I will also job shop. If I am not happy where I am, I owe it to myself to find my bliss somewhere else.

Off to breathe deeply... 

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Therapy Things

My principal informed me yesterday that we were going to start a new classroom in two weeks. While this adds many complications in organizing an already packed schedule, I am looking forward to this new addition to our school.

The classroom will be called a "low-density" classroom, meaning (according to the principal) that there will be a low staff:student ratio. There will be five students and three staff members in the classroom. The students are students that we already serve in different classrooms.

All of the students require pervasive levels of support for appropriate function in their environments. They are all loud communicators, and they are all not really appropriate matches for their current classrooms. Their presence in group therapy has always complicated my job as a therapist as they do not fit in with the rest of their classroom group. Now that they are in their own group, my job of finding therapeutic interventions to engage them in the therapeutic process is going to be much easier. In addition, the opportunity to have entire sessions focused around their unique needs will also be more beneficial to them.

I am looking forward to this opportunity.

I envision a music therapy session where the focus of therapy is on communication of wants/needs and on sensory-based interventions. I believe that when one of these students start to scream, the others will join in, allowing us to improvise music as a group (rather than just annoying quieter peers). I envision a music therapy session with little to no formal planning from me, more improvisation and going where they lead me.

Lead me, kids.