Georgia on My Mind

November 30, 2011

Foreword: Before I go on to rant and rave, I must apologize to all my faithful readers (some of whom will appreciate this post more than others) for being MIA from blogland for the past two weeks.  There really isn’t an excuse other than, “getting back into the swing of things after being away was harder and more overwhelming than I thought it would be.”  So I’m sorry.  And I’m back.

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Welcome to Atlanta, where the playaz play.

For starters, I thought about using the song “Welcome to Atlanta” by Jermaine Dupris as my blog post title, but upon looking up the lyrics, decided against it.  Good call.

Last weekend I was in a place where no one asked me what music therapy means – where drums, maracas, guitars and everything in between seemed to be everywhere and not looked at by passers-by with questioning eyes – the AMTA annual conference.

Since I became board certified and joined AMTA (the American Music Therapy Association) five years ago, I have gone to four national and four regional conferences.  Conferences are energizing, motivating and often a good time to catch up with MT friends who live far away.  This year, the conference was held in Atlanta, and I must say, even though I wasn’t able to go to the Coca-Cola museum [insert animated sad-face emoticon here], it was a great time.

Here are some things I learned and re-learned:

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Reunions are important.

Not only are reunions enjoyable for many reasons, but they are also great networking opportunities.  My internship from years ago has a reunion every year at the conference, and I always get new ideas, meet new people and make new professional connections.  Regarding the fun of reunions – one particularly enjoyable part of reunions (for me) is seeing all of my past students who are all entering or leaving their internships (a little shout out, past students – great to see you in GA).

Sessions led by non-MTs are a toss-up.

In two presentations I attended, it was suggested that music has an effect on our brains.  (!!!!!insert sarcasm here!!!!!) This is true.  This is also the most obvious fact, ever, to music therapists, and really doesn’t need to be reiterated at a music therapy conference, to people who learned that in the first semester of college. I was also informed that the way to find work in mental health facilities is to volunteer at different places for a half-hour or an hour per week.  (!!!!!insert palpable silence and blank stares here!!!!!) We make music therapy our careers.  This is not only a thing we love to do and are passionate about, but it’s also our job.  We have to make money doing it, or we can’t pay our bills.  Not to say that there’s anything wrong with volunteering in the more general sense of the word, but since half of the country thinks music therapists are uneducated volunteers, it would probably be beneficial to our field if we got paid for what we did.  That all being said, doing a promotional session or in-service at a facility certainly doesn’t hurt, but that’s purely for marketing and not meant to be the final solution. There was also a session where I felt that I was being sold a product,  instead of being taught about real-life applications, and in the hour that I remained in the meeting room I not only didn’t hear or see the product used, but I felt like I was being preached at about music therapy and its significance in health care.   We are music therapists, and we were being told how important music therapy is.  Talk about preaching to the choir…

7:30 AM is too early [for me] to be learning.

If you have been to MT conferences, you know that getting sleep while still going to sessions and enjoying all of the later-night festivities is very difficult.  There is music happening literally until 2 AM some nights, and there are parties, reunions, concerts, performances and open-mic/cabaret events to invest energy in.  7:30 AM is too early, in that regard, but the issue with starting sessions later every morning (there aren’t 7:30 sessions every day), is that the conference is only a few days long, and because it’s expensive to attend, I want to squeeze as much learning in as possible.  Getting enough sleep never happened at conference this year, and I realize that it’s okay because… Note to self: conference isn’t a vacation or a time for rest.  It is fun, but it is not a relaxing or restful time.

Location, location, location (does matter).

In the past six years, four out of the six national conferences were held in the mid-west. They were all in great cities, don’t get me wrong, and I still learned a ton and managed to have a great time with my friends I never see in two of those mid-western hubs.  I know that the mid-west is in the middle of the country, and that conference location bids are a factor, but it just doesn’t seem right that the scale has been tipped in that region’s favor, even considering the prices of certain locations. And…next year, the conference is an hour west of Chicago.  Mmmkay.  On a happier note, last night I had the pleasure of experiencing Pittypat’s Porch (a great southern restaurant based on a character in Gone With the Wind) which was an appropriate way to end a nice weekend in a fun city.

Keynote speeches are usually worthwhile.

Kenneth Bruscia – a guiding presence in the field of music therapy and the author of books that we all read in college, was our keynote speaker this year (that introduction was just for you non-MTs).  Not only was he funny at all the right times, but the content of what he was saying was valuable and also easy to grasp.  What I learned from Kenneth Bruscia, is that thinking of music therapy sessions in only one way is dangerous and counter-productive.  We all have to be more flexible in our expectations of how sessions are supposed to go, or our clients won’t benefit.  There was more to his speech, but that’s a little teaser for ya.

Lifetime Achievement takes a while.

I am blessed and fortunate enough to have been mentored and taught by two amazing women who have also won lifetime achievement awards from AMTA (one of whom won the distinction at this conference!).  When I think of all both of them have accomplished, I am humbled, and I realize that that kind of recognition only happens after years of really hard work, motivation and passion.  Regardless of a Lifetime Achievement Award,  I hope that in 30 years, I am able to look back with no regrets and be proud of myself for all that I’ve accomplished.  Someday…

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This conference also taught me several different clinical methods and interventions regarding the populations I work with, and brought me some insight about the end of life and it’s profundity (as I realize some of my more recent posts have been somewhat dreary) as well as some new ideas and a much needed kick in the tuchas regarding my contracting business and a project I’m working on (If I told you, I’d have to kill you).  Even if I don’t go every year, conference is always exactly what I need when I do go, and it usually happens during a time that I need it the most.
Thanks, Hotlanta AMTA conference, for being exactly what I needed.  I learned a lot.
Oh, and P.S.  Ben Folds was at the conference.  Yup – we’re just that cool.
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