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.
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:
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…
October 4, 2011
I love drumming. I particularly love participating in a drum circle with lots of people in it, but drum circles can’t always happen. The benefits I experience from drumming end up happening exclusively in my percussion-based groups, and then it’s not for me, but I still love it.
There’s a particularly wonderful drumming exercise I use occasionally (usually on rainy days) in percussion groups, and it has a name. It’s called “The Storm.” I have been told that this exercise was created by an influential music therapist named Deforia Lane, though I can’t be sure. If it was ethical (or legal) to videotape one of my sessions, I would post a video of this exercise. Unfortunately, you’ll have to use your imagination. Maybe I can kidnap some friends to recreate it at some point…
This exercise doesn’t need quite as much explanation in some settings as the amount I give in my groups, but I find it’s helpful to give the clients as much information as possible so they dont get confused.
Sometimes, before or after the session, I begin a discussion about “the storm” as a metaphor for difficulties in our lives, and invite clients to speak about their own personal storms for as long as they want.
I start by turning off/down the lights in the group room and I ask participants to chose a percussion instrument. We talk about the different aspects of a storm, and try to recreate those sounds with our instruments. I explain that there aren’t any real guidelines, but I almost always have to remind clients that this isn’t a rhythm exercise, and that talking isn’t allowed until we’re finished.
After our initial exploration, I invite the group members to close their eyes and take a deep breath, followed by a loud sigh. I tell the clients that we’re going to start with wind (as storms tend to do) and we’re going to end with wind, but that anything that happens in between is up to them. I also explain that if a person wants to stick with one aspect of the storm for the whole exercise, that’s okay, or if they want to try different sounds, that’s fine as well. With everyone’s eyes closed (except for mine – I peek to make sure nothing goes awry) we create a unique storm of our own. Sometimes there’s more rain than anything else, sometimes there’s more thunder, and sometimes, it takes a while for people to allow the storm to taper off. It’s always different, but people always report that they feel relaxed following this exercise.
I learned this activity at a conference a couple of years ago, and I liked it so much I have used it in the psych unit, in a dementia-specific assisted living facility, and with well elders in independent living complexes.
Something to remember: Even if storms are frequent or long, they always eventually end.