Monday, July 30, 2012


Yesterday, I called my sister for a chat. I found her in the midst of a pain crisis - this happens quite a bit with my family. We all have strange aches and pains that are not easily explained by modern medicine. It is not unusual for one of the members of my family to be the topic of an article dedicated to strange things...anyway...

My sister and I were talking about things just strange and typical for us when she mentioned an old record we used to listen to when we were kids. Feeling helpless to help her pain, I decided to see if I could do something for her, so I went to the computer. Lo and behold, iTunes had the album I was looking for, so I downloaded it and made a CD (which will be going to the mailbox to her shortly).

"The album," you may be asking? Why, it's Mickey Mouse Disco, of course!

I feel the guffaws starting now, but this record made a pretty big impact on the musical lives of my brother, my sister, and me.

Imagine, if you will, three kids between the ages of 4 and 9 sitting in a small bedroom clustered around a Fisher Price record player, singing to the likes of Disco Duck, Welcome to Rio, and Happy Birthday. We wore that record out.

I love the power of music, especially music as an aid to memory.

As soon as I had downloaded the music, I was able to play it via the phone for my sister who giggled. Her pain appeared to be a bit better, or at least more tolerable, when we listened to Donald Duck squawk his disco anthem of the late 70's. We talked about the other songs on the album, singing bits and pieces of them to each other. In a quick moment, we were little, experiencing a shared memory. I hope my brother will like his CD as much as I know that my sister will!

It is amazing, isn't it, that a series of sounds and silence can elicit strong responses in our brains, changing our emotions, sparking the same memories, and distracting our responses from the pain of life? 

From now on, when things are a bit too strange to handle, I think I will do some disco moves to the sounds of Mickey and the gang. I hope my siblings will do the same, remembering the times we gathered in my brother's room to listen to our music.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

My Summer Playlist

I am a music therapist who rarely listens to music simply to listen. When I need stimulation, I turn on talk radio or the television rather than the radio. This is a fact that constantly amuses and amazes me as I go through my life as a music therapist.

Right now, however, I have decided that music is what I want in my atmosphere. My head hurts...again...and the television does not seem to be helping that situation, so I have turned on my Pandora channels and have requested a quick mix. This has helped me vacuum and steam clean the front portion of the living room carpet and has allowed me to give my eyes a rest for a time.

So, the music has been playing for a time now, and I am really enjoying the selections that have come from my Pandora selections. Now, I have eclectic tastes in music, and I think that my channels reflect that taste. I have a John Denver channel, a Simon and Garfunkel channel, and a channel for the Irish Rovers. There is a John Williams channel, Epic Soundtracks, Chantel Kreviazuk, and the Muppets channel. I also have a Barenaked Ladies channel and one for The World Ain't Slowin' Down.

This has started me thinking about my summer playlist. You know what I mean, the songs that are your idea of the perfect soundtrack for hanging out around the pool, not a care in the world, and nothing pressing to do for the next several days. What is on your summer playlist?

Here are some of my picks for songs and musicians...
  • Everyone on my Pandora Channel list, of course.
  • Any soundtrack by Rachel Portman - her music is the type of classical music that just plain fits most of my emotions, any time, any day.
  • The Beach Boys (of course, I'm a California girl at heart, so bring on the beach music)
  • 80's alternative - Adam Ant, A-Ha, Billy Idol, nothing really pop-80's but lots of one-hit wonders that just captured my attention many years ago.
  • Charo - believe it or not, the hoochie girl is an excellent flamenco guitarist. I love her stuff and use it for relaxation with clients often. It also relaxes me!
  • Anything by the Muppets, either the Sesame Street residents or the Muppet Show folks.
  • Silly Songs with Larry from VeggieTales - just plain old silly songs! Love them!!
  • Hair Band ballads - don't really like hair bands in general, but I do like their slower songs
  • Garth Brooks
There you go. That list should keep me busy for a while over the next several weeks.

Happy listening!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Happiness Initiative Update - The End of the Summer


The summer session at work has ended and with it a part of the happiness initiative that I took on for my own well-being.

The past few days have included struggles with thinking about positive things happening around me. So, I have wallowed a bit in the realm of negativity. I will get back to positivity! I like myself and so many others so much more when I can easily see positive things and am feeling happy.

It is now Fall Break. For the next two weeks, I am blissfully unencumbered and have very little to do except clean, sleep, catch up on projects, vote in the primary, go to Office Depot's Star Teacher Appreciation Breakfast, attend Aida at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, start a research project, color things, make Christmas gifts, clean and rearrange the bedroom, and chase the cat. Whew.

I think most of my recent struggle with my happiness initiative has been related to the environment surrounding me. It is very hot. Now, I am from Southern California and used to go camping in the 115 degree heat, but I am now from Kansas and am not used to the humidity and the concept of heat indices. Blech. Anyway, I am hot all the time. That makes me a bit touchy. My clients are also touchy - probably for the same reason.

My music is also showing my deviation from the happiness initiative. I started writing a song the other day about my level of boredom. (I do not usually focus on such topics, but I know that my music often reflects what others feel, so I persevere.) It was an uninteresting little ditty.

As a result, I have decided that some wallowing in the ugh mood is warranted. If I do not acknowledge this feeling and accept it, the negativity will not go away. So, here is a dark patch that will gradually lighten up.

The first step?

Acknowledge the grumpiness for what it is - a mood and a feeling that I can change when I am ready.

The next step?

Find a project to do for today. How about a picture using only circles sparked by a blog that I like? I could do that!

Heading slowly back into happiness...

See you there?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Vocal Hygiene

One of the hot posts on the Music Therapists Unite group on Facebook has been about a need for a wireless microphone system to assist a music therapist with projection. Out of all the comments, not one suggested that there may be a medical issue contributing to this situation - until I posted about checking out the possibility of vocal nodules.

We do not often think about how we are exercising our vocal folds as therapists. In fact, we do not often think about our vocal folds at all...until they start to cause us trouble. At that point, it is too late!

Some links to information about vocal nodules that explain things MUCH better than I can:

A friend of mine experienced an issue with vocal nodules this last year that required six months of time away from her job as a music therapist. She was not allowed to talk, sing, or interact with others verbally. Her situation made me more aware of my own vocal hygiene.

Tips to preserve your voice:
  • Breathe properly - this skill, like all others, requires practice
  • Warm-up - the vocal folds are muscles like all other muscles. You wouldn't start a marathon without warming up first, would you?
  • STOP singing or speaking if your voice starts to become scratchy or hoarse
  • Drink lots of WATER - other liquids do not hydrate the body as well as water
  • Do not put yourself into situations where you are having to strain your voice to be heard
Remember that even though we all play other instruments, our first and most important instrument is our voice. Be careful out there!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Project Drawer and Happiness Project Updates

So, the happiness project that I have taken up during the summer months has been pretty good for me both as a therapist and as a person. I have been spending as much time as possible training my brain to find the positive in things. My biggest challenge to this summer of positivity has been my co-workers - several are displaying signs of burnout. I have had to make decisions about who to spend time around at work. Some of the decisions have been difficult, others easy as I continue to move towards training my amygdala towards thinking in a positive vein rather than in a negative vein.

Some of the other happiness project things that I have been trying to complete include my project drawer. The project drawer is where I put all of my ideas that are not fully fleshed out until I can get some time to complete them. The problem is that I never really seem to have time to complete anything. This summer, I am making time.

Last week's challenge was a file folder visual aid for the song, On Top of Spaghetti. I finished it. I drew pictures for the words, and then figured out how to put the entire song on a file folder. I'll use it in the Fall when I get my clients back from my current intern. We will work on picture recognition, word recognition, and sequencing with this folder. It is ready to go. 

In addition to finishing the Spaghetti song, I also laminated four musical Mad-Lib folders that have been sitting in the folder drawer for years. By laminating these folders, I can use my dry erase markers in my sessions.

So, this week's goals are finished. Next week's goal is a game. I'm not sure what the game will address, but I will.

Thanks for reading as I have been figuring out things this summer.

Friday, July 20, 2012


Last night gave me a chance to be part of a music therapy community. I have been hosting webinars this summer through my business website, This has been an interesting and fun experience that I am planning on continuing.

Anyway, what I find important about these experiences is the opportunity to connect with others who are interested in music as a therapeutic medium. I now know many folks who are in various places in their music therapy journey. These folks are not people that I would have had the pleasure of meeting in any other situation, primarily because we are far apart geographically, but now I have had an opportunity to interact with more folks that I would have ever engaged with in other situations.

Last night's webinar was supposed to be a swap shop where participants shared ideas with each other. It ended up being me sharing several of my ideas and a couple of conversations that were scintillating. We talked about co-treating, about inservice ideas, and about feeling somewhat isolated in a sea of therapists. I think that the next swap shop will be more interactive for everyone. Several attendees said that they would prepare ideas for the next one!

Connecting with others who understand about music therapy is an important aspect of being a therapist. The conversations that we had reinforced to me that the issues that I deal with on a daily basis are not unique to me. Other therapists encounter the same situations in their own workplaces. This sense of "we're all in this together," allows us to bond as a group with a common experience.

My community is starting to grow. The benefits of social media have been a boon to me - I am an introvert who is more comfortable engaging with others from my home computer than going to a social event organized by a music therapy group. On the other hand, it is strange that my community is all over the world sitting in front of computers rather than sharing the same air.

We made a tentative plan to meet at the AMTA conference for lunch. I hope that we can do that - it would be really nice to see faces of the music therapists and music therapy students that are enriching my therapy community. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Going Through the Project Drawer

I was looking around this morning and stumbled across a book about sketchbook challenges. This led to a blog,, and an idea for myself.

The contributors to the blog set a theme for themselves every month and post ideas that address the theme. This month's theme is circles. Now, music therapists have done this occasionally, but I am going to take this idea in a new direction for myself.

My challenge for the rest of the month of July and the first half of the month of August is the project drawer. The goal is to look through my drawer of half-finished ideas for music therapy sessions and clients and finish some of them! Does anyone else have a drawer, or a cabinet, or a box, or a file of half-finished ideas?

My drawer is a place where I put all of the ideas that I have started but never quite seen all the way through to completion. Sometimes ideas make it into the drawer because I am waiting for the laminating materials to arrive, sometimes I have part of an idea but not the entire thing, sometimes I need to draw or create a portion of the idea...the reasons why things get into the project drawer are many!

Today I plan on looking at the drawer, selecting one idea, and finishing it completely. I have my file folders, my scrapbook papers, my scissors, markers, colored pencils, cardstock, drawing tools, scanner, printer, and digital camera.I figure that I can finish a project every week while I am working, and maybe a project a day during my upcoming fall break. This is a pretty ambitious goal, but I think it can be done.

Today, I am feeling like a visual sequencing folder may be the best way for me to harness my need to be creative as well as to complete a project. I already have a file folder and a list of pictures that I need. The challenge for today is to draw all of the items in the song. Once that is finished, I will print out the lyrics of the song, laminate the whole thing, and post more pictures.

How is this music therapy, you may wonder? This TME will probably be an adjunctive or auxiliary use of music as a therapeutic medium, but the use of the song provides my students with an opportunity to arrange visual prompts to correspond with both words and with the predictable sequence of the song. 

Here is the project as it is at this very moment. Just a file folder. Hopefully, by the end of today it will be a complete project along with an accompanying therapeutic music experience (TME) to go with it. After it has been laminated, I can try it out with my students, revise, and maybe offer it to others. Project #1, here I come!!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Love Me Tender

On Thursday, I had a meeting that kept me busy during the first half of a targeted goal group session. My interns, on their own, went and got our students for the group and engaged them in music making. I finished my meeting and hurried down to the music room.

When I entered, everyone was engaged in music making in one way or another. One client was playing the conga drum, one was playing the guitar, and the third client had chosen to listen to an Elvis karaoke CD and was mouthing (his form of communication). When I entered, I greeted everyone and asked them to tell me what we were doing.

Elvis's song, Love Me Tender, came on the stereo. I asked the young man who simply mouths for communication if I could sit next to him. He started smiling and moving his mouth rapidly, indicating that I could. I found my fake book, sat next to him, and started to sing the words to the song. He leaned towards me and kept moving his mouth along with the words. The song ended, and we repeated the process with All Shook Up. His smile, the sounds from the other two clients making music, and the music itself made for a perfect music therapy moment. 

We were all engaged in active music making in our own way. Folks from all over the spectra of development, psychiatric health, cognitive function, and motor development were working together to make an unique experience. Every sound that we made fit within the experience and was accepted as part of our shared happening.

It is moments like this one that keep me fiercely advocating for music therapy. There are just times when music can elicit responses and experiences that nothing else can replicate. The joy of being a music therapist is that I get to be in those moments - sometimes I even get to facilitate them!

I hope you have lots of music therapy moments in the next several weeks.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Importance of Music for Music's Sake

Tonight I get to go to our local amphitheater to watch the musical, Memphis. I love my season tickets - a commitment I make to myself every summer. My summer evenings sitting under the stars, listening to musicals, and being an audience member are treats.

It is important for me (and I would think, for other music therapists) to have opportunities to participate in music making or music performances where I am not actively using music for a therapeutic purpose. Being an audience member allows me to simply immerse myself in the experience rather than attempt to adapt the music to affect behavior.

Since music is such a big part of my life as a music therapist, it makes sense that it is something that I find enjoyable. Yet, I cannot use music to assist me in concentrating. I need talk to help me concentrate. I use music for aesthetic purposes and for professional purposes in my own life.

I am going to take some time this evening to sit and simply marvel in the fact that musicians exist.

Thank you, all!!

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Happiness Initiative: An Update

There are many things that I find make me feel happy. I enjoy spending time with music therapists from around the world (in online settings) talking about my first ever passion, MUSIC THERAPY!! I love time in my music therapy clinic, giving my clients opportunities to express themselves through music. I enjoy my current restriction, placed upon myself, that housework = chocolate! I spend time with my family via the telephone.

All of these things make me feel happy.

Look up happiness on Google, and wikipedia is the first thing to pop up. ( The article in wikipedia includes the following quote: "Happiness is a mental or emotional state of well-being characterized by positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy."

Positive psychology is the third listing ( Following the posts led me to an article about the secrets of happiness ( Did you know that happy people like themselves? The only secret that I disagreed with was the statement that "happy people are outgoing." The article goes on to imply that extroverts are happy people. I am an introvert (VERY strong introvert), but I feel that I am happier than several of my extroverted friends. The idea that your feelings of self-worth and interaction are tied to the number of friends that you are involved with seems to be a myth. Maybe introverts are less likely to discuss their social preferences with surveyors??

But, I digress...

It has been my quest during this summer to turn my attitude from cloudy to sunnier than last year.

I will continue to look for the positive things that happen in my life, even when things seem pretty dim out there. I hope that you are able to do so as well. 

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Not Quite Patriotism

Last night, my Dad suggested that I spend my day singing every patriotic song that I know...all day long. Now, I did not think that this idea was a good one (I kinda like my quiet time at home), but my thoughts did move towards an incident that happened in a patriotic setting a long time ago.

My best friend, Maryann, and I were the oldest Girl Scouts in our town. We were sophomores in high school, a bit rebellious when it came to our style of Scouting, and didn't really care what others thought about us being scouts at the advanced age of 15.

We went camping with about 200 other scouts from our area. Maryann and I were standing next to each other during the flag-raising ceremony looking out over a ring of scouts from ages 6-15 (us), all acting very solemn. The tradition for flag ceremonies often included a song, and this ceremony was no different. The caller announced that we would sing "God Bless America."

Maryann and I started singing enthusiastically but found ourselves fading out of the song after the second word of the song.

The problem??

Maryann and I had learned a parody of "God Bless America" from my mom (I think, but it may have been from both of our moms...) that had the following lyrics:

God bless my underwear,
My only pair.
Stand beside them, and guide them,
Through the holes and the rips and the tears.
Through the washer and the dryer,
On the clothesline, everywhere!
God bless my underwear,
My only pair.
God bless my underwear,
My only pair!

When expected to be solemn leaders of a patriotic song, we could not remember the correct words! We dissolved into giggles, trying desperately to remain straight faced while others were watching.

To this day, I cannot remember the correct words to "God Bless America" without lots of concentration, embarrassment, and giggles!

Happy Independence Day, American readers!