When you are a Music Therapist, you get used to being asked a lot of questions. The number one question is typically “What is that and how/why?”. Many music therapists have an at the ready response to this question (I know I do, and you can listen to the Music Therapy Roundtable’s comments on this question as well), but my favorite question of all time is
“How did you decide to become a music therapist?”
During the course of applying to school for my degree and interviewing for internships, I realized that I really enjoy my answer to this question. It has all the elements of a good story: anger, loss, trouble, enlightenment, growth, and discovery. I found myself repeating it again and again to other students, professors, and internship directors and it always managed to elicit a smile. I will tell it to you here in full, and I’d love it if you would share with me how you found music therapy, whether you be a practitioner or a consumer.
Music has always been a big part of my life. I was a hairbrush diva, a horrible dancer, a rudimentary piano player, and a lover of all things New Kids on the Block (there’s your age marker). I was raised on a steady diet of Robert Palmer, the Eurythmics, the Beatles, Blondie, Johnny Rivers, Pink Floyd, and a variety of other favorites of my parents. It seemed natural that when the time to sign up for band came around, that my name be first on the list.
After a year of recorder in the fourth grade, the summer before fifth grade presented itself with the monumental task of selecting instruments. All our the elementary musicians in the county crowded themselves in the cafeteria of our only high school and practiced blowing air over flutes, buzzing our lips, stretching our arms, keeping a steady beat, and giving ourselves migraines trying to make a reed vibrate (can you tell what instrument I do not love?). We carried around little index cards where the band directors would notate how well we did with the basics of this or that instrument. My card said I had a wonderful buzz on a brass mouthpiece, excellent lips shape (embouchure) for the flute, and fantastic rhythm. I managed to make a sound on the clarinet, but my distaste was so obvious that I withheld my card and moved on.
With thoughts of the school bus and jokes of my peers in my head, I selected the trumpet. Throughout fifth grade and the first half of the 6th, I maintained first chair in the trumpets until I moved to french horn.
I. Love. French. Horn.
It was the most beautiful instrument. It was a challenge. I was the only one in our band, and only one of two in the school. In the 7th grade, I had the entire book of lines ready to pass off (that was how we earned our grade). But my teacher never called on me. I stayed after school to pass off lines. I was never called upon. In band, I played and practiced for the sixth and 7th grade band. I worked endlessly to carry my part and carry it well. But still, I was never called upon to pass off my lines.
Midterm report cards came. My grade in band was shocking. I had a 60. My parents were outraged with me. I was such a musician, how could I possibly have a 60 in band?
So I tried again. I stayed after school to pass off lines, and still was never called upon. Or if I was called upon, I could only play one line. After talking to my band director, the situation did not improve, so at the end of the 7th grade, I quit.
The 8th grade dawned bleak and boring. I was put into the general music class. We sang Rubber Ducky and When The Ants Go Marching In. I was bored. I made some new friends. We talked a lot. We laughed a lot. We smoked cigarettes in the bathroom (gag, I know). We cut class.
I received in school suspension, detention, and finally, a real suspension.
Something had gone horrible wrong, and it took me the year of the 8th grade to realize it. I was missing music. With high school on the horizon, I knew I couldn’t afford to stay in trouble like this, so I signed up for chorus. My troubles in school ended.
I realized that during my friendship with the less than honorable of my peers, that I was a sturdy person. People talked to me and felt better. I was able to initiate change in the lives of those around me, and that felt really good. By the time I reached the 10th grade, I had decided that I was going to have a dual major in psychology and music, and that I was going to use music to help people sort out their problems.
The 11th grade found me playing trumpet again, this time with the marching band of our new high school, as well as singing, as well as acting and swimming. It also found me in the career center of our young new high school as I discovered that music therapy exists.
I had arrived. I knew what my course was from here. It took me parting with music, getting in trouble, finding a new skill, and rejoining with music, but I had found my calling. There was never any doubt in my mind that this was what i was going to be doing for the rest of my life, and here I am.
Natalie, I love the story so far. I’d like to hear more about how you came to the decision to do music therapy vs. an alternative music career, like education, performance, or.. anything. What made music therapy the “IT” thing for you. What moment made you say “A ha!”
How did you find out about music therapy while you were in school?
Hi Heath! I only just saw this comment somehow! Apologies!
What made music therapy “it” for me was that I didn’t feel like I was doing the most I could with my music when teaching or performing. I wanted to use my music as something to change people’s lives, and I simply didn’t see the opportunity to do that (for me) in a teaching or peroforming career.
I found out about MT in the career center of my school of all places!
Natalie, thanks for the reply! I have been following a lot of music therapists on Twitter for awhile now (yourself included) and have been completely inspired by what you do on a day to day basis to help others through music. I have felt drawn to music therapy as a career for some time, and hearing about everything you do with music only inspires me more.
Thank you for writing this post.
How sad about your French Horn love being stifled. Can’t wait to read more!
It makes me sad too! I still to this day love the French Horn more than any other instrument. I think reading the comments below, I’m going to put a new blog post on my “to be written” list.
[…] doors that otherwise would have remained shut. When I saw this power acting in my own life (See How I Found Music Therapy) I knew that it could be used in others lives as well. My music making found a motivation that […]
[…] How I found Music Therapy […]
When I was a child I played the French Horn (badly) and my sister played flute (beautifully). I used to look forward to hearing her practicing in her room. I would sit and listen, wondering how she could make the instrument sing like that. When it was my time to practice, I would strain to emulate the beauty and emotion I heard from her.
Upon remarking to her recently about how much I loved to listen to her practicing, I was told that she, on the other hand, hated it when I was practicing, wearing headphones and earplugs in an attempt to block out my squawking. Oops.
I love this article. After being a musician for years, I recently began to understand the power of music outside of entertainment. It is definitely encouraging to see that other musicians have the same passion and revelation. Much success to you!
[…] The other day, a friend asked me if I had always known that I wanted to be a music therapist. The initial reaction is always “OF COURSE!” but that’s not 100% true. You can read about the actual store of my journey to music therapy-dom here. […]