Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 Reflections

How did this year go so quickly?  Reading over my post from this time last year -
2010 Reflections, 2011 Aspirations - I have no idea where the time has gone!
Last year, I was getting ready to start our first session of Sing Play Grow, our inclusive early childhood music and movement program.  What I did not expect was receiving a call from the Jackson Symphony Orchestra Community Music School asking me to teach their early childhood music classes.  I have been doing both programs since the beginning of the year and, though it keeps me busy with some late nights, I have had the pleasure of working with some really great kiddos and families.  I look forward to lots more music play this coming year.

Not much changed with our school contracts, but, unfortunately, still little progress in expanding our program within our area hospitals.  However, I truly believe all the publicity surrounding the progress Representative Gabrielle Giffords made through music therapy will help with program proposals throughout a variety of populations and facilities.  Afterall, even NPR agrees it was a good year for music therapy (written in purple on the upper left-hand side)!

What's coming up for us in 2012, you ask? Well, that is TO BE CONTINUED, but in the meantime, enjoy this adorable performance by Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt!

Wishing you a safe and very happy New Year!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

"There's So Much to Be Thankful For"

Last fall, inspired by a Michigan Music Therapists workshop presentation from music therapists Angie Snell and Laurel Rosen-Weatherford, I taught my adolescent and young adult special education students signs to accompany Josh Groban's Thankful (on the Noel album).  The students performed the piece at our annual holiday program in December and left very few dry eyes among the staff and parents in attendance.  For confidentiality reasons, I am not able to post the video of their performance, but I am able to share this video I recorded of myself during class; their classroom teachers used this video to help the students practice outside of our weekly session.  

I wish you all a safe and Happy Thanksgiving; you are all among the many blessings for which I am thankful. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Reflections on the ABC News Gabby Giffords Special

Congresswoman Gabby Giffords received a standing ovation at her first appearance in the House of Representatives since her attempted assassination (Aug 1, 2011).
There is already quite a buzz throughout my social media streams regarding last night's Gabby Giffords special on ABC News.  I'd like to share my reflections on last night's special and why this news is so important for the music therapy discipline.

As most of you are aware, Gabrielle Giffords, a Congresswoman from Arizona, was shot in the head during an assassination attempt last January.  The bullet went through the left hemisphere of her brain, which is the side that controls our language processes and the motor functions for the right side of the body.  Gabby Giffords went through extensive rehabilitative treatment at TIRR Memorial Hermann in Houston, TX.  As part of her treatment, she received and responded well to music therapy.  Due to her stature, her treatment has been followed closely by the media, including a feature by CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who spent time experiencing the various treatment disciplines.  Of his interactions with TIRR music therapist, Maegan Morrow, he noted, "I realized through music, she was working on developing my attention, memory and overall executive function."  Yes!  Exactly!

Having already had such wonderful media attention for Giffords' music therapy treatment, I was anxious to see what information the ABC News special would provide.  I am incredibly thankful to Gabby Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, for allowing ABC News to air their home video footage of her treatment.  They not only provided insight into the rehabilitation necessary following a traumatic brain injury (TBI), but they also showed the human element of the story, as you can see her frustrations with not being able to say what she knows and also her joy and determination for triumph.  It is also easy to see the incredible love and connection between Giffords & Kelly. 

I was a bit disappointed that, during the 20/20 special, there was not a more in-depth explanation of music therapy and its use for treatment of TBIs.  During the special, they aired footage of music therapist, Maegan Morrow, working with Giffords, but they referred to her as a "therapist with the guitar" rather than explaining her credentials.  I was happy to discover that the follow-up Nightline did provide more information about the science of music therapy, including commentary by legendary neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks.  That footage can be seen in the clip Giffords Rebuilds Speech with Song.  I love Maegan Morrow's explanation of how music accesses multiple areas of the brain and music can be used like a highway "exit" to go around the blockage and get to where you need to go.  Another clip, including some unaired footage, can be seen online at Gabby Giffords: Finding Words Through Song

One noteworthy feature to point out about many of these clips is that you can see Giffords struggling for one, two-word responses, yet she is able to sing entire phrases.  This is a common occurence for individuals with aphasia; the musical context finds the pathways that the words alone can not.  Music can be used to teach the brain to use those alternate pathways to rebuild communication.

Gabby Giffords was only one of the victims of a horrible tragedy.  Though we would all rather this had not happened, I am pleased that the media is using this opportunity to focus and educate regarding TBI and the extensive and ongoing rehabilitation needed to survive and overcome these injuries.  I wish Gabby Giffords and many others struggling with a TBI continued success in their therapies and recovery.  I am also THRILLED to be a music therapist, using music to help others heal and develop each and every day.

Did you catch the special?  What were your thoughts?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Keeping My Credentials

This weekend I tackled a very important item on my to-do list: I submitted my very first Application for Recertification to the Certification Board for Music Therapists.  Alas, it is not "once a music therapist, always a music therapist."  Rather, various obligations need to be fulfilled in order to maintain status as a board-certified music therapist. 

There are three main steps to initially becoming a board-certified music therapist: 1) complete an approved music therapy training program; 2) complete a six-month music therapy internship; and 3) successfully pass the music therapy certification exam.  An individual may then use the credential: MT-BC, meaning Music Therapist Board Certified. 

The music therapy certification cycle is five years.  At the end of each cycle, the music therapist must either take a recertification exam or provide documentation that he/she has completed at least 100 hours worth of continuing education credits within the five-year cycle.  I opted for continuing education credits, including graduate coursework, attendance at national and regional music therapy conferences, and other Continuing Music Therapy Education (CMTE) credits from workshops.

It's hard to believe I have been a certified music therapist for five years already.  Next up: renewing my teaching certificate!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Grieving with Autism

Today I learned that the father of a very special student passed away over the weekend.  This young man is incredibly intelligent and witty, but is limited in his ability to communicate due to autism.  He is very musical and, over the years I have worked with him, we have shared some very special moments.  I worked with this student today and I am convinced I saw the grief in his eyes.  We were in a group setting, so I chose to not openly address my observations, but I do believe that music therapy may play an important role in acknowledging and processing his loss.

This is a situation in which I do not have much experience.  Therefore, I ask you - my fellow music therapists, parents, and treatment team members - what methods have you found to be successful in helping an individual with autism to express, understand, and/or process grief?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

I've Got the Gas-is-Ridiculously-Expensive Blues

 Since the assassination of Osama Bin Laden on May 2nd, our gas prices in mid-Michigan have steadily - and very thankfully - declined from their peak at $4.17 at the end of April.  Today, that trend was very drastically reversed, as we jumped from around $3.63-$3.70 per gallon to $4.19. Yes, gas jumped 50 cents in one day for no apparent reason.  What other industry can raise it's price 13.5% in one day without warning?  I know if service providers tried that they would not be in business for very long!

I snapped this picture back in April when I
thought/hoped prices had reached their peak.

When gas prices first hit $4.17 back in April, I used Twitter to ask other traveling music therapy colleagues how their businesses were coping with the high gas prices.  All the responses I received involved having to elicit a rate increase for out-of-town travel.  Alas, I too recently made the decision to adjust my mileage fees for this next contract cycle.

Another option I've been reflecting on a lot lately was inspired by a blog post by music therapist Kat Fulton called Using Skype for Music Therapy and Drum Circles: Is This The Future? Telecommuting is quickly becoming a norm in our society.  Could we, should we, provide therapy via Skype or another method of telecommunication?  On the plus side, this would help with travel concerns and help therapists access clients at a distance, but - on the down side - how would this alter interactions, the development of therapeutic relationships, and maintaining confidentiality?

Do you have other suggestions or methods for combating the rising costs of travel?  What are your thoughts on using telecommunication for therapy?  

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Follow-up to "The Magical 'Moving Guitar'"

Today, for the first time, that same student stood independently from his/her chair in order to get to the tone chimes.  The teacher and I both did instant happy dances! 
Music therapy: using music as the means to accomplish non-musical goals. 

THIS is why I'm a music therapist.  Even though I don't have children of my own, I know the thrill and excitement of achieving 'firsts'.  Those 'firsts' seem even more exciting when they're delayed.  Or when an individual achieves something the "experts" said they never would.  Everyday I get to witness children, adolescents, and young adults exceeding expectations.  I feel so incredibly blessed to be able to use my musical gifts to elicit positive changes for others and to have the priviledge to work with such amazing people - students, staff, parents, administrators - everyday.  Thank you all for allowing me the honor to provide Creative Opportunities to Develop so many extraordinary Abilities!  

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Magical "Moving Guitar"

The magic of the "Moving Guitar" revealed itself yet again this week: I had another kiddo start walking during music therapy.

What is the "Moving Guitar?"  The "Moving Guitar" is a trick I discovered a few years back.  At the end of class, students have a turn to strum my guitar using the giant pick during the goodbye song.  I have many students that are very motivated by and look forward to playing the guitar.  I've found that if I hand the student the pick and then slowly back up on my rolling stool so that I am just out of reach, they will take a step or two to reach me and the guitar.  I utilize this technique when students are really close to walking independently, but just need that extra motivation to let go.

After months of coaxing a "step or two", on Tuesday those couple steps became eight.  And then another fourteen.  And then my student spent a good portion of the rest of the afternoon independently walking up and down the school hallway.  And me?  I've been on Cloud 9 ever since!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Song Story for Earth Day

Literacy is a big focus in our schools right now, partly due to MiBLSi: Michigan's Integrated Behavior and Learning Support Initiative.  However, I have always enjoyed integrating literacy into my music therapy sessions and incorporate a number of "song stories" throughout the year.

Earthsong: Based on "Over in the
Endangered Meadow"
This week I have been using one of my favorite song stories: Earthsong by Sally Rogers, illustrated by Melissa Bay Mathis.  This book depicts Sally Roger's song Over in the Endangered Meadow, which is written to a traditional tune (music notation is included on the back cover) and introduces a number of animals which are, or have been, endangered.  It also includes additional factual information about each animal in a notes section at the back of the book.  I use the book and song as an introduction to discussing Earth Day, including why we celebrate Earth Day and what we can do to protect the Earth.  Both counting and rhyming are included in the book, so it can also be used to develop those academic skills.  Additionally, the pictures are colorful and vivid, which helps capture and maintain attention.

What ways do you utilize music with literacy?  Do you have any favorite song stories or Earth Day interventions?   

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Day at the HOME Office!

Really? A day at the HOME office?!? Considering I have been on the GO lately, it has been a long time since I've been able to say that! This week is spring break for both schools I currently service, so I actually have some time to catch up on all the other projects I have going on right now. These are also the projects which have kept me from having time to post much lately.  These include...

Graduate school: I am taking a class on music curriculum through Michigan State.  For both my music therapy certification and my teaching certification, I must participate in continuing education.  This class will complete the number of graduate credits I need to be able to re-new my MI Provisional Teaching Certification.  It also counts towards the 100 CMTE - that's Continuing Music Therapy Education - credits I need to re-new my MT-BC at the end of this year.  This week I will be working on a methodology paper focusing on Dalcroze Eurhythmics and my final project, which is designing a curriculum for a music class of my choosing.  My curriculum project is targeted at secondary adapted general music.

GLR Conference: I attended the 2011 Great Lakes Region of AMTA conference in Wisconsin at the end of March.  It was a great conference and I hope to post some pictures on Facebook during this week.  Additionally, I am the program chair for the 2012 GLR conference - which will be held in Grand Rapids next April - so I am starting to get matters in order for that project.

MMT: I am the newsletter editor for Michigan Music Therapists.  I spent quite a bit of time reworking the newsletter for this spring's edition.  I am glad to have that project accomplished and plan to share some of the articles in a series on here.

Administrative Affairs: There are so many administrative issues that go into running a business.  This week I need to have everything in order to get my taxes done.  This is a project that I do not enjoy and tend to procrastinate each year, but, alas, it can only be pushed aside for so long!  Additionally, CODA MTS will be a vendor in a couple upcoming events, so I need to make sure we have all the appropriate marketing materials prepared and ready to go.

Renovating: As many of you know, I also have a passion for real estate and my partner and I are in the home stretch of finishing up our most recent project.  There will definitely be some tiling going on this week!

Who else is on spring break this week? How are you spending your extra time? I hope it is warmer than 40 degrees where you are! (Brrrr, Michigan!)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

How CODA MTS Came to Be

This post was inspired by music therapist & blogger, Rachel Rambach's post I Graduated...Now What?  In her post, she tells how she handled transitioning from her internship into a professional position by utilizing networking.  She also wrote, "Music therapists sometimes have to create their own jobs."  This was the case for me, so I thought it would be worthwhile to share the story of how CODA Music Therapy Services, LLC came to be.

I completed my music therapy internship at the UIC Medical Center at the end of September 2006.  I had certifications in both music therapy and music education, but - ideally - I wanted to return to my loved ones in Michigan and there were no suitable positions to be had.  So, I headed home, worked as a substitute teacher, and began sending out letters and e-mails to area Intermediate School Districts (ISDs) introducing myself, explaining music therapy, and proposing the implementation of music therapy services and/or adapted music education within their district.

Some districts replied that they already had music, some replied that they were not interested at this time, but, in December 2006, I got a reply from Ingham ISD wanting more information.  I arranged a meeting with the principal at Heartwood School, Marcia O'Brien.  She explained that they had been approached about music therapy in the past, but the special education directors had always turned it aside.  However, when my e-mail showed up, she was given the 'go ahead' to get more information.

In January 2007, I heard back from Marcia and found that her boss approved adding music therapy to the budget for the next school year (2007-08).  A month later - Valentine's Day, to be exact - I got a phone call from Marcia saying that they had received a parent request to have music therapy added to her child's IEP (IEP = Individualized Education Plan) and they would like to have me provide these services.

In March 2007, I started off providing 1/2 hour of music therapy two times per week for one student as a "temporary employee".  By the summer, I was offered a contracted position for the 2007-08 school year to service all thirteen (now fifteen!) classrooms with a combined music therapy and adapted music education program.  Success!

I worked closely with both Marcia and a human resources representative to develop my first contract.  The school was very concerned that my position meet the IRS criteria for a contracted position.  We determined that it would be most appropriate for me to establish my own company and for the school to contract with the company.

In July 2007, CODA Music Therapy Services, LLC became official.  For personal liability protection and my intentions to expand, I decided an LLC would suit my situation better than a sole proprietorship.  In the three and a half years since, our contract with Ingham ISD has grown, we have expanded to include contracts with other schools, contracts with hospitals, private pay clients, and - just this January - an inclusive early childhood music & movement program.  This is an exciting time for CODA MTS, as we look forward to the coming year and continue to expand our services throughout Michigan. 

CODA Music Therapy Services, LLC: Providing Creative Opportunities for Developing Abilities since 2007.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Battling the Winter 'Blahs'? Take a Sensory Vacation!

This is the time of year when I really start to feel the winter "blahs".  Days without sunshine, weeks without temperatures above freezing, and copious amounts of the "nasty white stuff" have me just wanting to hibernate!  Unfortunately, that is not conducive to paying my bills.  So, in order to cope with what many would probably label as mild Seasonal Affective Disorder, I have learned to take "sensory vacations".

What is a sensory vacation?  I have learned to, essentially, trick my senses by barraging them with stimuli I associate with summer and warm, tropical climates.  Yes, I know I am still surrounded by the Michigan snow, but it does help to lessen my down times.  Here are a few of my favorites.  [Please note: If you are experiencing major depression, including but not limited to thoughts of suicide and/or inability to function in daily tasks, please consult with a psychologist, counselor or other health professional immediately.] 

Auditory (Hearing)
As a music therapist, this is an important sense for me.  During the cold, winter months, I like to pull out calypso, reggae and Hawaiian music.  For world music selections, I use a lot of CDs from the "Putumayo Presents" series; Putumayo Presents: The Caribbean has lots of "warm sounding" songs.  As far as Hawaiian music, I love anything and everything by the late Israel "IZ" Kamakawiwo'ole.  Everytime I hear IZ's voice, I am immediately transported back to a white sandy beach of Hawaii.

Summer 2010 in Michigan's Upper Peninsula
Particularly in cloudy Michigan, looking out the window can quickly get you down.  I opt to surround myself with pictures from warmer days and places.  I use images from summer and my tropical vacations as my computer desktop, screensaver and Facebook profile picture.  I also have a "Tropical Paradise" wall calendar, which never fails to elicit some warming daydreams.

Olfactory (Smell)
I use candles and lotions to transport my nose.  My favorite sensory vacation candle is Yankee Candle's 'Sun & Sand', which smells like sunscreen and all things summer.  If Sun & Sand does not appeal to you, perhaps Pineapple Cilantro or Ocean Blossom will be more to your taste.  For lotions, I go for tropical scents, as well; my current favorite is Bath & Body Works 'Mango Mandarin'.  I am also looking forward to trying products from Bath & Body Works' new "Island Escape" line, which includes Hawaii Coconut, Fiji Passionfruit, and Bali Mango.

Gustatory (Taste)
I have found that when I use my Mango Mandarin lotion, I crave fruit.  Fresh fruit can be pretty expensive this time of year, but frozen fruit is usually more budget-friendly and works great for making smoothies.  I also rely on fruit juices, particularly anything containing pineapple juice, to give my taste buds a tropical treat.

Somatosensory (Touch, Proprioception)
One of the things I miss the most during the winter is the feel of warm sunshine on my body.  Light therapy, a common treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder, is one option for satisfying this deficiency.  Light therapy lamps emit bright light, which mimics natural outdoor light and is thought to effect serotonin production.  Additional information about light therapy can be found here.  Some people opt to use tanning beds, rather than light therapy lamps, but please be aware that tanning beds can expose the body to high levels of UV rays, which can contribute to skin cancer.

A few other suggestions for beating the winter "blahs"...
- Get plenty of exercise.  Despite my busy schedule, I try to get to the gym 4-5 times per week.
- Get enough sleep.  It's important to know how much sleep your body needs to feel well-rested.
- Get fresh air.  Sometimes I will leave my lunch in my car, simply so I have to go outside during the day.  Even a few minutes of fresh, albeit cold, air can go a long way.
- Eat healthy.  Eating heavy, fatty meals will only contribute to the desire to hibernate.
- Supplement your diet with vitamins.  Vitamin D is especially important during dark winter months and can make a big difference with energy levels.

What would you add to these suggestions? How do you keep your spirits up during winter?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Music Therapy Advocacy in Everyday Life

This month, January 2011, there is an initiative for blogs and podcasts to highlight advocacy in music therapy.  As I contemplated what to focus upon for this next blog, colleague Kimberly Sena Moore suggested I contribute to the advocacy project.  To learn more about this initiative and to be connected to other advocacy posts, please visit her blog: Music Therapy Maven.

When I hear the word "advocacy", I picture lobbying at the Capitol, calling legislators, and formal petitions.  Although I did happen to attend church with a Senator this past weekend, all of that seems very intimidating and quite removed from my daily life.  However, by definition, to advocate is merely "to support or recommend publicly; to plead for or speak in favor of [a cause]".  That doesn't seem so difficult.

As some of you know, in my "free time" my significant other and I are involved in real estate investment and property flipping.  (Music therapist by day, DIY diva by night!)  We are currently in the middle of remodeling a house that was foreclosed and in desperate need of some love.  Over holiday break we tackled sanding the hardwood floors.  To do this we had to rent an orbital floor sander from Home Depot and, as is pretty typical, we were both wearing Michigan State apparel when we went to pick up the sander.  The Home Depot Associate working the rental desk asked us about our affiliation with the university and I simply responded that John has a psychology degree and I have degrees in music education and music therapy and left it at that.  We loaded up the sander and headed off to the house.  About an hour into the project, we realized we were going to need to trade out some of the sanding disks for a different grade paper.  So I headed back to Home Depot for supplies while John kept working.

The same Home Depot Associate (HDA) was working and, as he helped me find the necessary supplies, the following conversation ensued.

HDA: Do you still do anything with your music degrees?
Me: Yes, I actually have a music therapy private practice.  Mostly, I contract within schools and work with children in special education, lots of kids with autism and other special needs...
HDA: So, most music therapists work with children?
Me: No, not necessarily. I just prefer to work with children.  There are lots of music therapists who work with the elderly and those with and memory are very closely related in the brain.  There are also music therapists working with Parkinson's patients, particularly with gait training...walking...
HDA: Is it that the rhythm helps them walk?
Me: Exactly.  And music at different tempos can help with moving at different speeds. Also, there are music therapists that work in hospitals, hospice, mental health... it's a very diverse field.
HDA: Didn't MSU stop the music therapy program?
Me: Yeah... I'm still pretty aggravated by that.

We then proceeded to discuss the recent moratorium of the music therapy program at MSU.  It turns out he exercises at the intramural building that is across from the music buildings and had encountered music professors during his work-outs.  I was so surprised and excited about this conversation that, as soon as I got in the car, I pulled out my phone and posted on Facebook: "Got to talk about music therapy with the tool rental guy at The Home Depot. He even knew about MSU closing the MT program. Pretty sweet interaction, if you ask me!"

This is advocacy!  Everytime we talk about our profession - with anyone - we are advocating.  For all I know, the Home Depot Associate could be the Governor's nephew!  Who might the cashier at the grocery store know?  Or the teller at the bank?

But what if I did not have to return to the store? This conversation would not have happened, simply because I did not take the initiative to advocate for my profession.  When he asked about our majors I could have easily asked if he was familiar with music therapy.  Why didn't I?  Probably because, in the ten years I have been involved with the field, I have had to correct so many misconceptions of music therapy.  It can be both exhausting and frustrating.  However, every time we explain the many facets of our profession, that is one less misconception that will have to be corrected later.  And, hopefully, that person can proceed to educate others.

Advocacy does not have to be extravagant, inconvenient or challenging.  It can be as simple as volunteering information about music therapy to those we encounter in our everyday life.  With the increase and accessibility of social networking, the world is shrinking.  So, though you may be telling your story to a 'mere' sales associate, you never know where that interaction may lead. 

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Early Childhood Music & Movement at CODA MTS

Just a little over a week until our new Sing Play Grow early childhood music and movement classes begin.  Here are answers to some Frequently Asked Questions.

What is the program philosophy?
     Our classes are based on the research of both Music Learning Theory and music therapy developmental principles.  Early childhood is a critical time for brain development and learning.  In regards to music learning, early exposure to a rich variety of musical experiences greatly influences the extent to which an individual will be able to understand, appreciate, and achieve in music as an adult.  Children learn music very similarly to how they learn language.  They are exposed to language by first listening to and then experimenting with language sounds through babble.  Children have many years of informal exposure to language before learning to read and write.  This is the same for music learning: children need informal exposure to a variety of music and opportunities for experimentation with musical sounds before they can effectively participate in formal music instruction, reading musical notation and creation of their own music.
     In addition to music learning, the CODA MTS Sing Play Grow program incorporates music therapy ideology, as well.  Beyond increasing musicality, our classes are also designed to: develop body awareness, fine, and gross motor skills through movement activities and instrument play; reinforce beginning speech and language processes; and provide opportunities for creativity, imaginative play, and active socialization among peers, caregivers and teachers.  In addition, we have additional training and experience in working with children with special needs and greatly value an inclusive classroom environment. 

What happens in a typical class?
     Teachers sing and chant using a variety of different tonalities, modalities and meters.  Age-appropriate movement activities are paired with the music and props/simple rhythm instruments - such as bean bags, egg shakers, and scarves - are incorporated as a means for imaginative play and motor development.  Parents attend classes with their child to provide a familiar adult model and allow for constant individual interaction.

Why don't you use traditional children's songs?
     Most "traditional" children's songs are in either major or minor and very few incorporate unusual meters.  We aim to provide musical exposure that augments what children may be experiencing within other environments.  Additionally, we use many songs & chants without words, since - when songs & chants are presented with text - children tend to focus on the words, rather than the musical content. 

I am worried that my child does not seem to be participating in class. What should I do?
     Don't worry, your child will participate when he or she is ready.  Some children learn best by watching and silently absorbing what happens in class.  Observing rather than participating is perfectly normal and does not indicate a child's ability or interest level.  Children are always learning through exposure.  It is important to allow a child to experience music in his/her way, rather than to force participation; forcing a child to participate may cause a child to resent music rather than to enjoy it.

What other questions do you have about the CODA MTS Sing Play Grow program?